How About a New Process for Revision by Beth Camp

The monster draft awaits. You’ve moved all of NaNoWriMo’s thousands of words into one file. Or you’re looking at that old manuscript, the one you’ve hidden in the bottom drawer, and you’re thinking, “It’s the New Year. I’m going to tackle this revision.” For some inexplicable reason, you’re reminded of Edgar Allen Poe’s, “Quoth the raven ‘Nevermore.’”

If you are a part of this wonderful online writing community, A Round of Words in 80 Days, by now we likely have “set goals by the round, assess progress, and report in weekly” tattooed on the inside of our foreheads.

But sometimes, we need to ask what’s not working. How might we improve the quality of our final draft? How productive is our revision process?

We could look at the large, unwieldy task of revising a novel and break it into manageable chunks.

  • Make a plan.
  • Set a deadline.
  • Get to work.
  • Evaluate progress and adjust goals and/or timeline as needed.
  • Repeat for three years – or until that draft goes back in the drawer.

Research says setting goals with a deadline works – most of the time. But I haven’t mastered how to revise without taking several years for the process. I’d like to improve my revision process so I can work on other stories, but I don’t have the process that works for me. I guess I’m not disciplined enough. Or maybe I don’t have the skills. Ooops! I just fell into the self-doubt hole.

I jumped on Google to see if I could find some more motivational articles on how to revise a novel. Lots of new ideas here. Here is the process I hope to use:

Proposed Round 1 Process for Revising:

  1. PRINT OUT the whole document, double-spaced or single-spaced. Your preference.
  2. READ THROUGH the whole story out loud. Put X where you falter. Doesn’t matter why. Don’t think overly much. Just read. Your goal? To bring the story to life, to understand, even unconsciously at this point, what the great theme is, how your characters’ journey develops, and what the resolution offers your readers. Allow 2-3 days.
  3. This time just read, slowing down to make notes throughout. Look at how the chapters fit together. Anything out of sequence? Any missing scenes? Characters act true to themselves? Story arc and character arc reasonably logical to the planned conclusion? Maybe work in pencil to avoid the red ink. Don’t worry about being tidy. Holly Lisle recommends using several different colors of pen or pencil and writing down notes in an Editing Notebook (both these tips work!). I’m guesstimating this level of reading will take most of Round 1.
  4. REREAD AGAIN. Dig down to the chapter level: Any missing scenes or extra scenes? Emotional tension appropriate for this chapter and at this point in the story? Sequence of events at the chapter level runs smoothly? More description needed of characters or setting to make the scene come alive? Ask how this chapter contributes to the larger story and the character arcs for your main characters. Resist the temptation to work at the word level, for that’s next. Make notes and move on!
  5. WORK AT THE WORD LEVEL, chapter by chapter. Does every single word add to the story? If not revise and delete. Tighten. Ask how each word connects to the larger story and the development of your key characters. Everything fits. Each word has a purpose. All that you write moves the story forward and connects to your deeper theme.
  6. LET GO and send this nearly final draft out to your beta reader/s. Hope your beta readers take a few weeks so you can celebrate your progress and take a break to work on your marketing plan!

As I’m writing this trial process up, I realize I’ve already skipped Step 1 (to read and take in the whole story) and slid straight to Steps 2 and 3 (revising at the chapter and word level). So much for trying something new! Even though I feel good about the minor edits I’ve made so far, the rest of this weekend (and the beginning of next), I’m going right back to work on Step 1: Reading the whole wip. No revising. No editing. Just marking that X.

A Note about Beta Readers and Editors. When your novel is at the final stage, you could consider working with a beta reader. Even after all the revision I can possibly think of, I still send my final drafts out to beta readers, those generous and talented writing partners I’ve met face-to-face or online whose writing I respect. But before you invite someone to be your beta reader, know the level at which that person writes and how timely their response to your work will be.

You may prefer hiring an editor to working with a beta reader. Several writers I know have complained their editors did not understand their story. Alarm bells go off for me. I dread turning over writing that’s not-quite-finished to someone I don’t know.

Cost may be another factor. Charges range from $40 to $100 per page, and more. As Elizabeth Lyon says: “On average, editing 100 pages plus a synopsis, and writing the evaluation, will involve 15-25 hours.” Cost will also vary depending on whether your editor undertakes developmental editing (think story line, plot holes, major restructuring) and/or copy editing (clarity, mechanics, punctuation, and grammar).

Your revision suggestions: What advice would you give to improve revision? Please share what works for you in the comments. And may your writing go well.


 A few helpful resources:
–Holly Lisle: “How to Revise a Novel

–James Duncan: “7 Tips for Revising a Novel”

Editorial Freelancers Association


Beth Camp

8 thoughts on “How About a New Process for Revision by Beth Camp

  1. I find the revision process much quicker than the writing process – it seems to take me years to write a novel and then a couple months to revise it all.

    What has worked for me in revising is to write a story outline, brand new, from scratch, without referencing previous ones. Since I’ve written it all I know what needs to happen, and starting from a blank page gives me the freedom to move or delete scenes without actually doing it.

    1. I do read out loud and find this a most useful tool when I’m working at the word level. Sometimes those words really do trip — and need tightening! Thank you for commenting.

  2. If you don’t like reading it out loud there are some programs out there that will read it to you off your document. (I have PC – but I’m sure they are available for Mac too).
    Since I’ve only ever used the one and it has a robot voice, (it was a free version) I wouldn’t recommend it exactly, but I find that it helps more for me than me reading it.
    Just search text-to-speech in Google.

    1. Interesting idea, TP. I’ll give this a try, but I do tend to be more of a visual person (drawn to the page) than aural (forget things I’ve heard almost immediately). So, reading aloud in bits and pieces slows me down during revision, enough to hear what makes me stumble.

  3. This post is very helpful! It will be some time before I get to the revision stage of my project, but I look forward to using this straightforward, step-by-step approach on my work.

  4. Speeding up my revision process is something I’m working on this year. My goal is to have two stories ready for submission and to finish second drafts of two of my shorter works. My revision process is to read the file on my Kindle, making plenty of notes in a notebook as I go. Then I go through chapter by chapter and fix whatever I found, let the story sit for a month or two, then reread and do it again. I’ve never read my work out loud, although it sounds helpful. I might just have to try it.

    Great post, Beth!

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