The first time you write “the end” on a book is unforgettable. You’ve climbed the mountain, hauled yourself to that summit, and taken some time to appreciate the view. You’ve earned the right to sit in that warm sunlight and bask in the feeling of being on top of the world.
Once you’ve enjoyed your victory, you might start looking around, wondering how exactly you’re going to navigate the path from there. You’ve finally accomplished your goal—what’s next? Revision.
Does the thought of revision make you a little dizzy, as if you’re at high altitude? If so, that’s completely normal. There’s a lot of advice out there about drafting a novel, and a lot of advice about revision, but not much about what to do to prepare for that revision process. Come walk down that trail with me as I share five tips about what I wish I’d known before beginning revisions on my first novel.
Let Your Manuscript Rest
Once you’ve written “the end,” let your new book rest. Like making it back down the mountain and looking back at your impressive climb, you need some time away from your manuscript to get some distance and perspective. There is no rule, but if it’s your first book, I suggest at least six weeks. Some writers let their manuscripts rest for three months or longer. While you’re waiting, feel free to start writing your next book!
Decide on Your Labeling Strategy
My first few books ended up scattered in the darkest corners of my computer. Endless files of First Revision . . . Eighth Revision . . . Final Revision . . . Final, Final Revision . . . Final, Final, FINAL, THIS TIME I MEAN IT Revision . . . Just Kidding! This is the Final Version, Maybe.
It was bad. Trust me.
Plan to label each revision in a way that you can easily distinguish one from the other, such as Trudging Up Everest Revision 1, Trudging Up Everest Revision 2, and so on. Otherwise you will end up with manuscripts everywhere and lose track of what is in which version. Also? Label your current working document and save it before you even begin revising. Sounds like a no-brainer, but many a writer has lost work due to a glitch.
Make a Story Folder and Prepare Documents
Here are some additional documents you may want to have handy before you begin revising. These can be in Google Docs, Word, Scrivener, or whatever you prefer to write and edit with.
- Create a story folder on your computer with your story title: Trudging Up Everest.
- Back up your folder to a cloud. Some writers email manuscript versions to themselves every so often. Both work.
- Save a copy of your first draft labeled for revision, leaving your original draft untouched for posterity (or in case you need it later).
- Consider keeping a Revision Versions List that includes the names of each document and a few notes about what you worked on in each one. This helps in case you need to find something in a specific revision.
- Set up a Deleted Scenes document to save favorite pieces of your manuscript that don’t make it into the final version. (You can always consider putting them on your website after publication as bonus content!)
- Prepare an Editing List document for writing down ideas that come to you as you work through the manuscript.
- If desired, save a Research document to keep all your research.
Study Your Revision List
Some writers do a quick, one-time read through their manuscript and knock off a few rough edges before letting the manuscript rest, and some leave every bit of the revision for afterward.
If you have revision notes from the drafting stage, this is the perfect time to review them. (See the section about creating an edit list while drafting in Five Tips to Hush Up Your Internal Editor So You Can NaNoWriMo.)
If you don’t have revision notes, keep your new Editing List document open alongside your manuscript to add revision notes as you begin editing.
Decide If and When to Use an Alpha Reader
At some time during this phase, an alpha reader can be incredibly helpful. An alpha reader is someone you trust implicitly with your work who will be both supportive and honest. You can use one (or two) after you finish the first draft or at any stage before major revisions.
The alpha reader’s purpose is to read straight through your rough draft and give you overall notes on the story structure, plot holes, plausibility, characterization, what they loved, etc. They will be the first people besides you to see your manuscript, so it’s important that they are people you trust implicitly. An alpha read is not the time for spelling/grammar/punctuation micro work. An alpha reader should only be looking at the big picture and the overall story arc. A fellow writer is best for this, or even someone who is an avid reader with a great sense of story. Just make sure they understand your genre and that they will be a good cheerleader.
I have two alpha readers: my husband and my best gal friend. My process—which took me a while to figure out, so it may not be your process—is to do one quick revision pass on my own to smooth out the roughest bits, and then I send to my alphas. I do at least one more revision pass to tighten up the story after I receive it back, and then I send it to critique partners. Again, you don’t have to do it this way. But if you want to send it to an alpha before you tackle your first round of revisions, this would be the time to do it.
Now that you’re ready to begin work on your revisions, check out the second post in this two-part series: “Six Tips for Revising Your Manuscript”