So, you’ve finished the first draft of your current work in progress. The hard work is done now, right? Not quite. Just because you’ve typed “The End” doesn’t mean your work is ready for the world to see. There are sure to be typos, missed punctuation, and (gasp) even plot holes that need to be found and fixed.
If that sounds daunting, it can be. Too many potential authors get stuck down the “rabbit hole of revisions” and never find their way out. It’s tempting to read our work and rewrite and revise. Then, we go back and read it again, rewriting and revising as we go. The cycle continues over and over. Somehow, we never feel our work is quite ready for anyone else to see. It’s not perfect. That’s the rabbit hole. Like Alice in Wonderland, we get lost in our own words, constantly finding that one last mistake, one misplaced word. Eventually, we may decide that it will never be perfect and thus does not deserve to enter the esteemed world of literature.
My advice: don’t go there. It’s a trap!
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t correct and improve our work. We definitely should. But we should have a plan (a map, so to speak) so we don’t get lost along the way.
Here’s the revision map I use. Perhaps it will help you as you devise a plan that works for you.
Take a break
Let your story rest. Don’t jump right into revisions. Your original ideas are still too fresh and will cloud your objectivity as you look for problems that should be fixed. The amount of rest time will depend on you. Some authors need only a day or two. Others need a few weeks to let the original ideas fade a bit so they can look at it with fresh eyes. Experiment and see what works best for you.
Read as a Reader
When you’re ready, think about your target audience and read it as they would. You’re not looking for every mistake. In this round, you want to see if the story engages you. Does the plot flow? Do your characters develop through the story? Do they stay “in character” or do some of their actions and words feel out of place? If any of those things need fixing, rewrite as needed.
Let Your Baby Crawl
When you like what you’ve written, let a few people read it. Often, these are called beta readers. Family and friends may be your first go-to for this, but many times, they are like the Cheshire Cat. They will grin and tell you what they think you want to hear, sometimes in gibberish that doesn’t make any sense to your story. That’s great for the ego, but it isn’t as helpful as constructive feedback would be.
You don’t want overly critical beta readers, either. They may seem like the Red Queen. If it’s not written her way, it’s wrong.
“The roses must be red. This is rubbish. Off with her head!”
I recommend finding a group of authors and/or readers in your genre who are not connected with you emotionally. There are many groups on Facebook and other online venues. You might find a local book club or author group, as well.
When considering anyone’s feedback, remember that they are only making suggestions, not issuing commands. Read them carefully, apply those that feel right, and let the rest go. Generally, if I have several people commenting on the same thing, I’m more likely to make changes than if there’s only one passing comment. When that’s finished, let it rest again.
Tackle the Typos
Do a proofread for correct punctuation, typos, etc. This time around, focus on the technical aspects of your writing. Do all your dialogues have matching quotation marks? Are there words that should be capitalized, or not? Are your teacups placed just so for your perpetual unbirthday tea party? (Hm. Maybe I carried that analogy a bit too far.) Time to let it rest again.
Turn It Upside Down
At this point, I recommend an inverse read. There are several ways to do this.
Change the colors (white type on black background, for example). The change in appearance can really draw your attention to the mistakes.
Read it backwards, the last paragraph first. That way you don’t get so caught up in the story that you overlook the errors.
Read it aloud, or have the computer read it to you. Hearing the words can bring weak word choices and other overlooked defects to your attention.
Personally, I like to combine two or all three of these methods. It’s amazing how many tiny mistakes would have slipped by if I didn’t stand on my head at this point. (Not physically, mind you.)
Let a Professional Take a Look
Now it’s time to send it to your editor.
“What? Why do I need an editor if I’ve done all this revision work?”
Basically, for the same reason you use beta readers. More eyes on your work can bring flaws to light. I put a lot of stock in my editor’s suggestions, but at the end of the day, they are only suggestions. If they feel right, I incorporate them, if they don’t, I won’t.
Many authors skip this step. I find it important for me to do a final read-through. I will generally do this one away from my computer. That keeps me from rewriting what doesn’t really need to be rewritten. I download the digital manuscript to my tablet and read with a paper and pencil by my side. If I find a really bad spot, I’ll jot it down, but this last time through is for my own peace of mind. When this is done, I’m confident that we’ve rooted out most of the errors.
Let your baby fly!
That’s it. Once I implemented this revision plan, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed with the amount of work still to be done on my first drafts. Step by step, I was able to rewrite, revise, improve, and prepare my books for the world.
This isn’t to say it’s the only way to revise your work. Each author must find their own path to publication. Keep in mind, I have yet to find a published work that has zero flaws, so don’t let that stop you from moving forward. If you have a plan, a map, you’re less likely to join so many others who never publish because they got lost down the rabbit hole of revisions.
Books by Ferrell Hornsby https://www.facebook.com/authorferrellhornsby
An inspirational story about a man’s journey through multiple sclerosis, and how he learns to serve others again. (Based on my husband’s real-life experiences.)
Books by Emily Daniels (aka Ferrell Hornsby) https://www.facebook.com/EmilyDanielsBooks
Books by Nana Ferrell (aka Ferrell Hornsby) https://www.facebook.com/hoppityfloppity
Ferrell Hornsby has been writing stories and poetry since she could hold a pencil in her chubby little hand. Encouraged by her grandmother, she continued writing, even after receiving her first rejection letter at age twelve. Since then, she’s explored many genres, children’s literature, historical fiction, and most recently, inspirational fiction. Her own life experiences add a depth and emotional connection to her characters that is both rare and fulfilling.
Ferrell married her soul mate in 2011, and her life hasn’t been the same since! Together, they enjoy music, movies, eating out, and ice cream (the more chocolate, the better).