Monday, March 3, 2014

The One Where I Give Advice on Revising

I don't usually give writing advice to anyone, especially knowing that what works for one person doesn't always work for another. However, my fabulous agent recently asked me and her other clients to share some revision advice on her blog, and this post was born! I'm not sure when her post with all our revision advice will go up, so check in at her blog often--there's some great information for querying writers there, besides.

On Applying Feedback

*Brainstorm right away if the mood strikes, but at the same time, wait a day or two (at least!) before you actually begin planning out the revision. Not only will this give you more time to process the feedback you've been given, but you might also find that even more brilliant ideas come to you while you’re mulling things over.

*When I'm beginning a revision, I like to make a chapter-by-chapter plan of attack first (I love to plan things, so if this isn't your style, that's cool too!). For instance, if I need to add a scene between two characters, I’ll outline the best place for my new scene between existing scenes/chapters in a new Word document. Some feedback will of course apply throughout the whole MS, so I make a separate list/Word doc of things I should change in every chapter.

*Even if you don’t outline before writing your novel, it may be helpful to write a brief chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene outline when you're ready to start revising. That way, you can get a sense for how your book flows overall and where to add scenes if necessary, or else trim others to amplify tension. (When I do this for a book, I use an Excel document and make a spreadsheet that details chapters, scene numbers, characters in a given scene, and a brief description of plot points in a scene. This is something my agent did with me to show me where I could trim certain scenes in an MS, and I've found it incredibly helpful with revising any story).

*When actually doing a revision, be prepared to do multiple read-throughs of your MS. For me, what works best is going through once and making any major changes, then going through a second time to line edit, checking for filter words, showing vs. telling (every writer's enemy!), and any places where I can tighten the prose on the revised MS before sending it back to my agent or CPs. 

Helpful Tips

*Stay true to your story. Maybe that sounds cheesy, but what I mean is, there’s no one way for feedback to be taken. It's like that Neil Gaiman quote: "Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what's wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong." So, if you’re told to change something in your story, make sure you change it in a way that remains true to your vision for your work. At the same time, don’t refuse to change something simply because it seems too daunting. In my experience, I’ve found that the changes that seem the most intimidating or painful are the ones that ultimately make my story so much stronger!

*Never be afraid to ask for questions or clarification. As my agent will tell you, I ask questions until I’m confident about making changes! I also use my CPs to help with ideas if I get stuck on a certain bit of feedback. They come up with some amazing suggestions for changes and plot twists!

*Always read dialogue out loud. I do this when drafting too, but it’s equally relevant when revising. I also read revised passages of my MS aloud to check for weak spots in the writing. Those spots are usually indicated by places where I pause/stumble.

*Have some CPs/betas lined up who are willing to read your revised draft—ones who preferably haven't read your book before. I’ll admit, I’ve had a few CPs re-read scenes from a revised MS, but only when the scene is new or drastically changed. On the whole, I feel you’ll benefit more from having new eyes on your revision to see if everything works the way you envisioned.


Overall, the best advice I have for a revising writer is to plan your revision out—map your chapters and scenes in Word or Excel. This will make planning where to apply feedback and make changes so much clearer. At least, that's what works for me!

If anyone out there has tips on revisions, or ways to revise other than what I mentioned above, I'd love to hear them! Similarly, if you have a question about revising, please ask and I'll try my best to answer!

Happy writing/editing/revising, all!