The Best Way To Revise Your Novel

NOTE: If you haven’t finished your first draft, don’t worry! The tips in this series will still apply to you!

You did it.

After weeks, or months, or years, you finally finished that first draft. It was probably rough and there may have been a few tears, but you made it through.

Hopefully you took the time to celebrate and ordered your cinnastix from dominoes, because now the ugly part begins.

When you’re writing the first draft of your novel, you have one goal — get to “THE END.” It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be done. In the first draft you can get a way with “insert epic battle here” because it’s the first draft.

But when you’re revising your novel, your goal is to write the best version of your story possible and unfortunately that’s a million times harder than reaching “THE END.”

It’s not about just getting through one more draft. It’s a huge and at times seemingly endless endeavor, but like everything in writing, if you have a plan you can do it.

Having a revision plan makes a world of difference.

 It took me 14 years to finish a first draft of anything. When I finally had that finished rough draft, I had no idea how hard revising that story would be. But I also had now idea how much I would learn and grow as a writer.

Almost every single piece of advice I give on this site are things I learned when I started revising.

Revising is an important thing to study whether you have a finished first draft or not, because when you’re learning how to revise, you’re actually learning how to write.

 To give you a clear example of what revision did for me:

First Novel

Writing Time: 1 year

Revision Time: 1.5 years

Literary Agent Offers Received: 0

Second Novel

Writing Time: 1 month

Revision Time: 3 months

Literary Agent Offers Received: 15

Now if those stats look insane to you, that’s because they are. I won’t lie and say there wasn’t a lot of sweat and tears and manic writing through sleepless nights behind that success, because there was.

But I can say with 100% certainty that I wouldn’t have been able to write my second book so quickly or as well as I did without having spent 1.5 years revising. All my successes and failures in that time period taught me so much about writing and about how I write best.

I never would have imagined how important learning how to revise would be for my writing career, but now that I have the tools I know that every time I write a new draft, I’m becoming a better, stronger, and more efficient writer.

I want you to have that same sense of accomplishment. But I also don’t want you to spend 1.5 years floundering around in revision hell like I did the first time I tried to revise my novel.

So for that reason, I’m starting the Rules of Revision series on this blog.

I’m going to give you an inside look at the strategies that help me revise efficiently and effectively. Today we’re going to talk about the best way to revise.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to cover how to tackle:

·      Plot Revisions

·      Character Revisions

·      World-building Revisions

·      Prose Revisions

·      Getting, Processing, & Incorporating Feedback

Whether you’re sitting with a messy rough draft or you’re still working on finishing that first drafts, these blog posts will help you become a better writer.

So are you excited? Good!

Let’s kick off that party by discussing the best way to revise.

The Best Way To Revise

My primary advice as a writer is to do whatever works for you, so I try and shy away from calling anything “The Best.”

But when it comes to revising, I have pretty strong opinions. Especially if you’re attempting to revise your novel for the first time.

Think of your favorite book: does the plot make you whip through the pages? Does the protagonist’s growth make your heart swell? Does the beautiful language have you highlighting almost every word?

These are the books that blow our minds as writers because it seems impossible that one person could create such a masterpiece.

And you know what? They can’t!

At least, they can’t in one draft.

Writing a masterpiece takes several revisions. And it’s so much easier to revise when you focus on one specific thing each time you start a new draft.

In my humble opinion, the best way to revise is to go in passes. A pass is when you do a round of revision to improve one specific thing in your story.

When you revise in passes, you can really focus on building your story into a masterpiece one revision at a time. You can also go a lot faster than if you try to revise by starting at the first page and working your way to the end (the big mistake I made the first time I tried to revise).

When I finish my first draft, the first thing I do is create an outline for what I want to fix and improve. After I’m done with my outline, my first pass focuses on plot. That means when I sit down to edit my second draft, the only thing I focus on is making the plot as tight and exciting as it can be.

After that, I do a pass for characters. After that, a pass for world-building. After that, a pass for dialogue!

Layer by layer I build the story into the “masterpiece” I want it to be. It’s tedious, but it’s efficient, and it lets you grow as a writer in a unique way.

It also allows you to write quickly because you know you don’t have to get everything “write” the first time around.

I get a lot of emails from writers asking how to fix one specific struggle and 8/10, the answer is to just finish the first draft.

When you know that you’re going to go back and revise specifically for dialogue, you don’t have to care that your characters sound like they’re on some cheesy soap opera. And when you know you’ll go back into your story and build every single setting description up, you can tolerate the fact that your first few drafts will say “[insert jungle description here]”

The truth is writing is hard. And if you want to be a good writer, it’s even harder.

You can make the whole process a lot easier on yourself if you take apart the pieces of your book and focus on one at a time.

Alright, that’s it for today!

Next week I’ll be coming to you with information on what you should be looking for when tackling your plot and how to do it.

For now, let me know in the comments:

What do you want me to focus on in this revision series?

Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi is the #1 NYT and International Best-Selling author of book and upcoming movie CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE.