I did something in a revision last week I haven’t done in ages.
And you know what? The revision went really, really well. I was so easily able to see what was wrong with my new short story and I was able to fix the problem, finally. After three long months of trying to figure out what was wrong with the story, why it kept getting rejected, I finally figured it out.
Let’s just this latest revision was killer. (I mean, the story is horror, so it fits!)
I did a few things I always do that helps with the revising process. I didn’t look at the story for about six weeks until I started the new draft, the fifth one to date. I tell other writers all the time one of the best things you can do for revision is not look at or even think about your story for at least a month or longer.
That way, when you pull the story back out you’re able to read it afresh, almost as a reader of the story and not the writer of it, and see with clearer eyes what might be wrong with it. What you might want to add or delete or change.
Often after a long time away from it it’s so totally obvious what you need to do.
Another thing I did was read through the whole story in one sitting before I began the next draft. This is harder to do with novels, of course, but with short stories it’s pivotal that you read through the story from beginning to end once without taking any notes at first.
It’s so easy to just read the first sentence and change a word, delete a phrase, but that’s not really revising at the end of the day, that’s mostly copyediting.
This process might be helpful to fix grammar and spelling errors and typos, but it doesn’t help you see the bigger picture. It helps you fix the minutia but not always the larger problem.
No, you have to do more. You have to find a way that helps you complete the best revision yet.
So what’s the one thing I did to ensure a killer revision? A revision that finally fixed the major issue I believe is the reason why the story keeps getting rejected?
I printed out the manuscript and took notes on the pages by hand.
You want to know the last time I did this for a piece of my fiction writing? 2013. Yes, I hadn’t printed out any of my fiction for revising purposes in more than six years.
The first reason? I feel guilty about using up all that paper.
The second reason? After I finish making all the notes, there’s the essential step of having to transfer all those notes from the page to the computer.
I’ve written more than 10 novels since 2013, and every single revision I’ve done has been on my laptop screen. It saves paper. I don’t have to transfer notes. I can just go through the manuscript page by page and make my changes. It’s easier. It’s more environmentally friendly. It takes less time.
But does it ensure a killer revision? Not exactly.
I can see why printing out a novel manuscript for revision might seem like a lot of work, but I’d still recommend it because it’s just so much easier to see the mistakes in your work both large and small.
There’s something different about reading your words on paper than on a screen. Your mind remains clearer, sharper. The problems pop off the page, I’m telling you. It’d been years since I’d revised a new work of fiction this way, and I was amazed how easier the whole process went.
I was able to cut 500 words from the story and add a few new ones and I absolutely love this latest draft. I just sent it to five new literary magazines, and we’ll see if I have better luck this time around.
All I know is that if one of the magazine editors accepts the story, I’ll have this revision process to thank. I’m absolutely going to do it for every new short story I write from now on. Possibly even my future novels.
So give it a try if you’ve never revised this way before! Printing out your work and taking notes by hand will absolutely ensure a killer revision every single time.