How to Revise Your First Draft and Actually Improve It
You’re done! At least, you just typed “The End,” and you’re flush with pride at completing this thing you’ve been struggling with for months. But now what? How do you get from there to something that’s worth reading?
Just as with writing itself, you have to experiment to find the revision methods that work best for you. The key thing, though, is that you must have a method. Writing is a creative process; revision is a deliberate one. You cannot revise effectively unless you approach it in an organized, disciplined fashion.
First, however, you need to wait. Why? Because, however excited and proud you may be to have finished your draft, you’re too close to it to start revising right away. You need to give yourself some time to forget it.
When you come back a month or so later (minimum), you’re ready to start reading this thing you’ve created. But you aren’t just reading. You must read with purpose. You aren’t doing it for your enjoyment; you’re on a search-and-destroy mission for things that need fixing. But with so many things to think about, you can’t look for them all at once.
This is why seasoned editors employ the approach of editing at different levels, which is to say, editing only certain things at a time so as not to divide their attention. Editing for style and plot is a very different thing from editing for spelling and grammatical errors. You’re going to need to do multiple passes with different targets.
Further, the order that you do this matters. You can’t do your copy-editing first, then go back and make major changes in the plot, because you’re just going to be introducing more errors with the new things you’re writing. That’s why it’s best to go from large to small: Do a read as if you’re a reader: Does the overall plot work? Are there holes and inconsistencies? Is it engaging? Then, when you start to be satisfied with the structure, look at smaller stuff: Is the dialogue realistic? Does the prose flow? Are there uneven sections that need smoothing out? Then, and only then, should you get into serious copyediting.
Finally, the correction part is not as straightforward as it might seem either. I’ve often come across statements that a draft should shrink by 10% (or some other arbitrary figure) with each revision. This is fine, if your writing tends to be wordy and bloated. If you keep feeling that things are moving too slowly and your characters are doing and saying things that don’t advance the plot, and that your prose seems larded with throat-clearing and other useless words, keeping an eye on your word count and aiming to bring it down can be very useful.
But not all writers suffer from these problems. My prose, by contrast, tends to be pretty sparse, and I’m constantly finding spots that seem to move too fast or need more fleshing out. My drafts almost always expand during the revision process.
This leads us to the main point here: You need to have a good feel for the problems in your writing. All writers have these sorts of hiccups: expressions you use too often, bad habits with grammar and syntax, words you habitually misspell, plot devices you fall back on too many times, and so on. Things like this are often susceptible to rapid fixes with find-and-replace, which should be a part of your revision process.
All of this needs to happen at least once before you send your book to your editors or beta readers. (This why they’re called beta readers, not alpha readers.) Then, depending on the feedback you get, you’ll need to do it at least once more.
Revision is rarely much fun, but having a disciplined approach to it will ensure you’re not wasting your time and that your book will be improved by it.
About the Author:
Michael Dalton is a professional journalist and editor. He lives with his family and multiple pets in Southern California.
Connect with Michael: Website
Title: The Witches’ Covenant by Michael Dalton
Genre: Alternate History / Fantasy / Romance
Erich, Ariel and Astrid have begun their life together, but all is not well. Ariel and Astrid have discovered that sharing a husband is a greater challenge than they anticipated, a challenge that is exacerbated by a difCicult winter trip to Wittenberg, where Erich hopes to enter the service of Frederick III, Elector of Sachsen. But their trip is soon interrupted by unexpected complications.
In the town of Marburg, a century-old agreement that has kept the peace between the Landgraviate of Hessen and a band of witches in the forest is beginning to unravel. The young Landgrave, Philip, needs to consolidate his authority, and the witches want something from him that he does not dare surrender.
Erich and his wives are drawn into this conClict, and in the process discover a mystery that seems tied to their unique magical bond—a mystery that may threaten its very existence if they cannot resolve it.
In this second installment in the bestselling Twin Magic series, Michael Dalton spins together magic, steampunk, and traditional German fairy tales into another entertaining alternate history adventure.
Purchase The Witches’ Covenant on Amazon