In nearly ten years of writing novels, I’ve tried pretty much everything when it comes to revision.
Should You Print Out Your Work?
For my first few books, I actually printed out the first draft and spent weeks and weeks making handwritten notes on the pages. I still think there’s a noticeable difference between reading your words on the printed page and reading your words on the computer screen.
The problem with this method is that it takes forever to then transfer all the changes back to the computer screen, and after a few years, I (sadly) stopped doing this. I still like to occasionally print out a draft of my work and read it hardcopy, but for revision, I lately stick to the words on the screen.
How Long Should You Let Your Manuscript Rest?
Another revision method I try to enact whenever possible is to let six weeks or longer pass between drafts, whether it’s the second draft or the tenth draft. Stephen King recommends six weeks in his craft book, On Writing, and actually, the longer the better. When you go straight from one draft to the next, after awhile you begin to lose sight of larger problems, and you spend too much time fixing sentences and correcting typos. When you come back to a manuscript six weeks later or longer, bigger issues hit you much easier.
When you let a manuscript rest for a long, long time, you can really see in total clarity what’s working and what isn’t. I once wrote the first draft of a novel that I didn’t return to for 18 months, and when I finally began the second draft, it was like revising the work of another author — it had been so long that I couldn’t remember some of the characters and parts of the plot.
Of course sometimes letting a manuscript rest for a long time isn’t feasible, and here and there I’m forced to move on to the next draft pretty quickly. Whether it’s a weekend or a year between drafts, just remember to figure out your goals for the next draft. You don’t want to waste your time doing the same thing on the next revision that you did on the previous one.
How Many Revisions Should You Do?
I’m a big believer in doing one major revision, then sending the manuscript out to two or three people to get their feedback. This gives you another break from the story, and when you return for the third draft, you have new insight into what’s working and what isn’t in the story.
You can certainly send out your third draft instead, or maybe your fourth draft, or even your seventeenth draft, but eventually you do need to send it out, otherwise you might just be dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s and not really fixing elements of your novel that still need work.
Why You Should Read Your Chapters Twice in Each Revision
Something I started doing about three years ago I find especially helpful is reading through my chapters twice upon each revision. What I mean by that is this… revise a chapter one day, or two chapters, or three, however much you want to revise for that day. And then the next day, revise that same chapter again, while also moving on to a new chapter you haven’t looked over yet.
So, for example, I’m five chapters into revising my new middle grade horror novel. I started on Sunday with Chapter 1. On Monday, I re-read Chapter 1, then revised Chapter 2. On Tuesday, I re-read Chapter 2, then moved on to Chapter 3. And so on, and so on.
How Does This Process Help Exactly?
- It gives me two chances to make changes in each chapter, not just one. Instead of reading through a chapter once and then returning to it in, oh, two or three months, I read through it twice, which gives me peace of mind that I’ve done, at this moment in time, everything I wanted to do to that particular section of the story. It’s in a sense like doing two drafts in one.
- Reading through the chapter a second time helps you find any mistakes you might have made the day before. When you re-write a sentence, cut a paragraph, add a line of dialogue, things change. The pacing changes. The rhythm, even the tone, can change. The way the page looks is different. And in trying to strengthen the chapter the day before, you might have made new problems you didn’t realize, both big and small. Coming to the chapter again a day later is like a second chance, revealing what works from the previous day’s work and what might have seemed a good idea at the time but actually weakens the story considerably.
- It also helps remind me where the previous chapter left off, in terms of pacing, structure, tone, character goals, conflict, etc, when I continue on to the new chapter. A day can be a long time, and when you just start straight into the next chapter without re-reading the chapter from the day before, you might forget elements from the previous scene that now changes bits and pieces to come in the next scene.
In the End, Do What’s Right for You
Reading chapters twice in each revision essentially makes things easier for you, the writer. It allows you two chances instead of one to fix problems, both big and small, and it gives you more opportunities to improve your work.
So give it a try if you’ve never revised this way before! It’s certainly helped me the past few years, and I look forward to continuing this method in many more novels to come.