You've finished your first draft!
*Round of applause in your honor.*
These are my five best tips to get your revisions started. Disclaimer: *Everyone's process is different. These are what work for me. Your milage may vary. Offer void where prohibited.*
1. Walk away
I don't mean down to the corner for more coffee and back. Walk away from the manuscript for at least a week. (some coaches/editors recommend a month, but I know that's not always reasonable.) Don't even open the file. That's hard. I know. But you need space from it.
2. Make notes
After you've had some space, read through the manuscript beginning to end and make notes about any major issues you see. Don't make any changes yet. Just make notes. I suggest printing it out in a different font than what you usually work in or reading it on a Kindle. It's weird, but the story will look different which makes you read it with a new perspective.
3. Make major changes
Review your notes. Are there any gaping plot holes? Does your character start acting weird in a way that isn't relate to their arc? Any scenes that aren't truly moving the plot? Be honest about this—even if you love them and think they are fabulous—do they propel your plot? Pick out the issues that significantly impact plot or character. Make those changes first. Your foundation must be solid (plot/character/pacing) before you can address the smaller concerns (dialogue, POV, and other issues.)
Do your beta readers a favor and run spellcheck after you finish making your revisions. It may seem like a simple thing, but it's amazing how many times this step gets overlooked. I took a class from the fabulous Angela James who pointed out that when you make changes, you are often editing mistakes into the manuscript without realizing it. Let the spellcheck/grammar program catch the easy stuff for you.
Now you have a choice to make
If you feel good about where you are,
4. Press send to your first-round beta readers
You ran spellcheck, right? The manuscript is as set as it’s going to be at this moment? Then send it off to a friend or critique partner you can trust to be honest. I would not suggest using a critique group at this point because you want someone to read the story and assess it as a whole rather than in the parts that you would share with a group.
Sometimes a non-writer is better for this because they bring a reader perspective that isn't influenced by learning about the craft.
If you send it to more than one person, I suggest staggering the feedback a little so you can make changes and see a reaction to those changes from a different reader.
To get the most from your betas, ask them to provide specific feedback. It is important to get more information than, "I thought it was good." For example: Did the characters feel believable? Where there any places the story felt slow or became uninteresting? Was there anything that felt out of place or unnecessary?
If you aren’t quite ready to hit send yet,
5. Break out the markers
If something still feels off, I suggest color-coding your scenes. This will take some time. For me it usually takes a week or so working a few hours a day. I do suggest limiting it to a few hours at time so you don't start to rush or fall into just reading the story instead of looking at it objectively. I prefer to print it out to do this, but you can do it in a Word doc.
Highlight all of the dialogue in one color, various character POVs in different colors, etc.
Here is a sample of what I mark:
Character Thoughts (Consider using different colors for different characters)
Backstory (Consider using different colors for each character)
Look at anything that isn't marked. What is its purpose in the story? Does it still belong there? Is it necessary? Delete anything that is interrupting the flow or doesn't quite fit.
Look at your colors. What do you the most of? What do you have the least of? Does it create a good balance? For example, you are probably going to have much less setting description than dialogue.
Watch for large chunks of backstory.
Watch for dialogue that is split by too much introspection or internal thoughts.
Make sure that any backstory or narrative explanation is vital to the reader understanding at that moment. Can they enjoy and experience the story without this information?
After you’ve evaluated and made changes, repeat step four.
These are five steps to get you started. There’s always more to come! If you are looking for someone to coach you through the writing process, please check out my services and let me know how I can help!
Also, check my Pinterest page for great articles and suggestions about the revision and editing process!