Hello and thank you for joining me today! This episode covers one of my favorite topics: revision. A lot of people (mostly non-writers) think revision just means running your story through spell-check, change a few words here and there, then poof! Your manuscript is ready to submit. We writers know better than that. Revision is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be painful work.
In this episode I’ll talk about how to rock your post-NaNoWriMo revisions and what you should do once you have finished a fast first draft. I’ll take through the process of going from Draft Zero to a solid, complete draft that’s ready to query.
Whether you just finished NaNoWriMo and have 50,000 words begging for revision, or you have a short story you want to polish, I’ll walk you through the whole revision process from draft to done. We’ll take inventory on what you’ve written, use a systematic method to tighten your manuscript, and finally get feedback from Beta readers. Check out the episode below.
For those who may not know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s an event held in the month of November. Participants of NaNoWriMo commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. When someone says they won NaNoWriMo, it means that they met that goal and wrote 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November.
Now, 50,000 words is not usually a complete novel manuscript, and even if you did cover all the plot points in that amount of writing, you probably have a very lean draft to work with. The first thing you need to do is assess what kind of manuscript you have.
Category 1 – The Lean Draft
This manuscript manages to hit all the plot points of your story arc, but it may need some filling in to make it a complete draft.
Category 2 – The Incomplete Draft
This manuscript is still missing major plot points and character development. Before you move on to the rest of the revision process you are going to need to finish this draft. Make sure your story has a solid beginning, middle, and ending. Keep it up! You’re almost there.
Once you’ve got all the pieces of your manuscript together, you have what I call Draft Zero. This draft hits all the major landmarks of your story and contains sufficient description and narrative to get you from scene to scene and from start to finish. Then you’re ready to revise.
Three Steps from Draft Zero to Ready-to-Submit
1) Extract an outline.
Some writers start with an outline before they write. I write first and then I go back and I outline what I’ve written. Outlining allows me to get a full view of my story, to see all the parts and the big picture at the same time.
2) Analyze the manuscript’s components.
I begin the revision process with the most basic points (character and plot) and then work my way to the nitty-gritty details (theme and language). This idea is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where you want to fulfill your book’s more basic and urgent needs first, then move on to the smaller components. This means focusing on your overall book first, then breaking it down act-by-act or scene-by-scene for more detailed revision. The graphic below gives an overall view of how I like to break down the revision process.
3) Get some beta readers.
Your beta readers should be people who have never seen your novel before, people who will read like readers, not like writers. Also, you should try to include at least one person who is an expert in the genre you are writing in.
Keep in mind that this process takes time, up to several months. NaNoWriMo is all about getting the words on the page. Now you get to spend time with your story.
Here are a few helpful articles about revision and receiving different types of feedback on your writing, courtesy of the DIY MFA team.
- Seven Steps to Editing Like a Master – by Rebecca Jordan
- When You Finish a First Draft – by Bess Cozby
- What Kind of Feedback is Right for You? – by Gabriela Pereira
Also, here are a few of my go-to books on editing and revision:
By: James Scott Bell
This book breaks down revision into a logical process. When I heard Bell speak on this topic, he said that writers should “write hot, revise cold.” In other words, the first draft might be written with abandon, but the revision process is far more calculated and meticulous. This book breaks down revision into a simple, step-by-step process to help you navigate the revision process and make it a bit less daunting.
By: Stuart Horwitz
Stuart Horwitz’s Blueprint Your Bestseller, is a must-read for any writer struggling with their book. While Horwitz’s “book architecture” method works if you’re midway through a draft, this game-changing technique is invaluable to a writer in the midst of revision. By starting with theme, and working down into more detailed revisions, the book architecture method goes hand-in-hand with the revision pyramid approach discussed in this episode. You can use both techniques separately, or together as they complement one another.
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Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome.