Begin the Begin...Again: 5 Tips for Revising a Novel

As I begin yet another revision for yet another novel, I’m reminded of a few revision and writing/outlining tips that have always helped me in the past, and that I plan to employ in full force again. Not that I’m some sort of bestselling author passing down the key to the city or anything, but you never know what tip will make that new draft feel like a breeze. I’ve mentioned some other tips before (HERE and HERE) but here are a few of my favorites that I’ve picked up along the way, and maybe one of these will help you too.

1. Write a New Outline Between Drafts

This is something I’ve done off and on for years, but I have used this device much more often since hearing Gabriela Pereira, of, profess its benefits at a Writer’s Digest conference in 2014. Even if you had an outline before you began a first draft, and even if you feel you have a clear idea about what needs to change in draft #2 (or #14, or whatever), you'll absolutely strengthen your understanding of the current state of your book and reinforce your new ideas by writing a completely new outline before you begin the next draft. It may not have to be anything extensive, perhaps a page summarizing the major movements of your tale, but I find this step between your revision notes that you’ve jotted down and the actual book beautifully melds what you want to do with what you’ve done.

And for those who like to work without outlines at all, I certainly understand your sense of adventure, and I’ve written that way in the past as well, but I find a few road signs along the way with enough leeway for exploration and surprises has been the most enjoyable sort of journey.    

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The Mathematics of Revision

I enjoy re-reading Stephen King’s On Writing every few years. Not only is his personal, humorous, accessible prose in the book a pleasure to read, but as I grow older and more experienced in the writing world, I find so much of his advice to be spot on. But there’s one particular tip in his book that seems to have struck a chord in my writing life. In the long run, the piece of advice he offers is very true…but it took me a few drafts of one of my novels to see the light, and to develop my own equation for coming up with a book that, at least to me, is complete and satisfying.

That piece of advice? Put on your mathematician's hat and get out your pencil, because this is one equation you’ll want to write down and remember, and then revise and make your own. 

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7 Tips for Revising a Novel

*Previously published at the Writer's Digest blog, There Are No Rules. I blog there once or twice a month. Take a look!*

I spent my December revising a noir/crime novel (I seem to spend most Decembers revising a novel) and I also had a recent discussion with two other writers about the revision process. Both occurrences brought to mind some tips you may find useful. Mind you these are rather simple pieces of advice, and everyone has their own process that works for them, but they might help you feel a little less like you’re swimming upstream during this vital step. I hope they help. Happy revising!

1. Use One File — This is especially true in fiction, but I advise all writers to write the early drafts in one Word file (or whatever software you use). Not only does it help keep a sense of continuity as you progress, but if you make a change that affects an earlier chapter, all you have to do is scroll up. It also makes a key word search much easier without having to open multiple files. I’ve seen novelists use a new Word document per chapter (I did with my first novel way back when) but it can become a confusing jumble of files once you get up to chapter sixty, seventy, eighty…

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