Refine Your Writing Process: Revisions

Writing anything is a process. Writing a novel can be a lengthy commitment of time, energy and mental resources. Right now I’m hip deep in the mire of revisions.

Some people don’t understand how involved the revision process can be, so they think that the hard part of writing a novel is over. You know, coming up with a brilliant premise and then telling the story to the sum of 70-100 thousand words.

If you’re one of those people, let me enlighten you. Writing a novel involves these steps:

  1. Planning
  2. Drafting – writing the story
  3. Rewriting and revising
  4. Editing
  5. Getting reader input
  6. Polishing

Some writers do extensive rewriting so they put that as a separate step, but I rewrite and revise at the same time. Once I explain the difference, I’ll give you a glimpse into my process for revising a first draft of a book into something that might be ready for reader’s eyes but is not ready to be published.

The Difference Between Rewriting and Revising

E.B. White said “Writing is rewriting.”

I wish he was wrong, but no, it’s true. Good writing is almost certainly the byproduct of rewriting rather than drafting.

Rewriting means writing again. James Scott Bell completely rewrites his stories as a second draft. To me, that’s crazy! But he’s found that it’s easier for him than slogging through the messy first draft.

A writer’s process is as unique as their finished work. That’s the main reason I don’t try to push a specific process on the writers I work with. Instead, I ask them about their strengths and struggles and offer suggestions about methods to try.

Revising means changing the words on the page to make them better. It could mean scrapping a scene here and there and writing a whole new scene somewhere else. But it uses the “skeleton” of the draft as the basis of the better, stronger story.

Three Steps of Revision

My first drafts are messy and generally skimpy. I will increase the word count by at least ten percent.
Here are my steps for revision:

  1. Find the story
    After I’ve let the first draft sit for a week (to a month), I read it through. I mark it up with symbols that tell me where I had questions, nearly fell asleep, or made an illogical jump (called a plot hole).
    In my handy spiral notebook, I jot down ideas I have about how to strengthen things. Then I open my Scrivener file and begin to change the story.

2. Add emotion
While drafting my books, the story spills out. That means sometimes (okay, most of the time) there isn’t a ton of emotion on the page. As I revise scene-by-scene, I’ll use my handy Emotion Thesaurus to find unique ways to increase the emotions.

This includes sensory descriptions. I aim for using at least three different senses in each scene. I’m not talking about purple prose here, but just a quick scent, taste or tactile reference that pulls readers further into the story.

3. Deepen character voice

This can be the most difficult part of the macro editing, and that means I’ll probably still be hammering away at it during the editing process, too.

The writing needs to sound like the character. Granny Jo uses different metaphors and has different external and internal responses than her 16-year-old granddaughter. The chapters narrated by each character should reflect this and sound almost as if a different person wrote them.

Some things I do to “get into character” include: journaling in first person before I write their scenes, choosing quirks and language that is unique to them, and trying to make them an original rather than “just another old lady.”

If you’re interested in a more thorough glimpse at these steps of revision, join my writer’s group on Facebook. It’s where I offer coaching tips, encouragement and even give away free critiques.

If you’re a writer, how long does the revision process take?

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.