When I was younger, school taught me to brainstorm an idea for a story, write it, then turn it in. I’d get feedback and a grade, but that was the end of it. I’m so grateful when I see my daughters not only write in school, but also practice revising. Very few things come out amazing in the first draft (and often the second, third, and fourth drafts, too). Every time you put writing away for a bit then look at it with fresh eyes, or receive feedback from trusted critique buddies or publishing professionals, there’s a chance to take your work up at least a level or two. But sometimes, it’s hard to know where to start.
Once you finish your first draft of a book, assignment, etc. I think the most important thing to do is CELEBRATE! So many people want to be writers and have all kinds of ideas swimming around their heads, but don’t find the time to actually sit and get them down on paper or into a computer. Congrats for finishing your draft!
Years ago, I used to leap into revisions in a very unproductive way—by trying to make the prose sing. That’s very important, but if the bones of your story aren’t strong enough, you can spend tons of time polishing up areas that will have to be cut. Concentrate on the big picture items first. Once you get them as strong as possible, that’s the perfect time to tweak your prose to perfection.
I’ve learned that I’m much stronger at voice and writing dialogue than plotting, so that’s where I usually start with a revision. I use Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock as much as possible while planning a new novel or picture book. Sometimes surprises pop up that take my plot in an unexpected direction. I love when my characters take over and start to lead the story! Sometimes, I’ll go back and rework the Plot Clock soon after I finish a draft, other times I jot notes on it and don’t completely redo it until I finish several rounds of revisions.
If you’d like, you can take a peek at some notes I shared a few years ago after taking Joyce’s Plot Clock Workshop, or you can sign up for Joyce’s newsletter then log in to her site to watch her free hour and a half Plot Clock webinar.
Here are some other revision tips:
*Look at your characters and see if they’re all necessary and unique enough. Get to know them better through interviews. I love keeping a list of the traits, sayings, etc. of each character (and it tends to grow throughout the first draft and continues to expand and morph through rounds of revisions).
*Is every scene needed?
*Did you take the most obvious route? Play around with all the possibilities you can think of. What can really make your story and characters unique? What can surprise your readers (but looking back, they’ll hopefully have enough clues to realize how everything led up to that moment)?
*If you hit a section that you know needs to be stronger, but aren’t sure how to fix it, you can try setting a timer for ten minutes and brainstorming all the possibilities. You can also play with the time of day that you write. My inner critic gets tired late at night, and I’ve found that I take more chances with my writing then. It’s a great way to attack a scene I know I need to change, but am not exactly sure how.
*Now is a fantastic time to get feedback from trusted critique buddies. If possible, see if you can work on another project or character sketches, so you can view your story with fresh eyes when you receive their comments.
At the end, you can fine-tune your story. Make sure every word is needed and the strongest possible choice. Look for often repeated words. Read your story out loud and see where you stumble. Or have someone else read it out loud—it’s amazing how much clearer you can see your work when read by another person. If others hear it too, do they laugh at the right time or lose attention during scenes that can be streamlined?
Here are a couple of older Mixed-Up Files posts about revision that you might want to read:
I’d love to know what revision strategies work best for you!
Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s Twitter, Facebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.