A lot of author-entrepreneurs revise as they write. They’re hesitant to embrace the idea of writing first, and revising second. Just as research and pre-writing are separate tasks from writing, so is revision. It’s not your fault if you think this way. After all, we’re not professional writers! Lots of people lump everything under the umbrella of “the writing process,” but that process actually contains five distinct stages.
The Writing Process
I like to think of the revision stage as putting together a puzzle.
My younger nieces and nephews take a box containing a puzzle, dump it out, and lament (rather quickly) that they don’t know how to make the puzzle look like the picture on the box. The older kids know just what to do to get started.
Of course it’s overwhelming to stare at a pile of 100 or 500 (or even 24 for the toddler crowd!) pieces. I search for the four corners first, followed by any piece with an edge. Then I have a border to work with and can start working on specific sections. Is there a sun in the upper-right corner. I can search for yellow pieces. Is there grass along the bottom? I can search for green pieces.
Revising a manuscript draft works in a similar way. To break down the process, since we’ve been talking about kids, let’s use a few of the grade-school “5 W questions”: who, why,when, and why (plus how, for good measure).
Who and Why
You’re doing the revising, but the important WHO when it comes to revision is your audience. Always remember your reader. As you work through the manuscript, ask yourself this: What do I want the reader to take away from each chapter, section, and even sentence?
As for why, revision will help you identify areas within the text that are not clear, contain unnecessary of confusing words, or belong somewhere different within the book. You’ll determine some of this, but beta readers will help you find weak spots in the text, too. As an author, you want your readers to receive your message. The way you do that is with a clear, well-written manuscript. Spoiler alert: That manuscript rarely is the result of just one draft.
You’re so close to your work, and so is your writing coach/developmental editor (if you’re working with one), so it’s important to get your work in front of fresh eyes to help you identify weak spots in your narrative. Reading is subjective, so what’s perfectly clear to one reader might not make total sense to another. The level of detail that makes one reader cringe is just fine for another reader. Beta feedback gives you a sampling of replies so that you can see what might need to be addressed to improve your manuscript.
"Reading is subjective, so what’s perfectly clear to one reader might not make total sense to another." - @jodibrandon
Because revision is its own step in the overall writing process, it should be done AFTER you have a complete draft. Will you make small tweaks here and there while writing? Of course. But the bulk of revision should be done after.
How: The Revision Process
The revision process will likely be repeated a couple times before you declare your work ready for the next step in the writing process: editing. Here’s how it actually works:
Grab your outline. Then, review chapter by chapter, then section by section, then paragraph by paragraph, and even line by line. Make multiple passes, first looking for big-picture issues (sections or entire paragraphs out of order) and eventually dealing with nitty-gritty word choice and grammar/mechanics. Ask yourself so many times you hear it in your sleep: Does this make sense for the reader?
When you have revised your manuscript, you have, essentially, a new draft. Some authors do another round of beta feedback; others wait for a second draft to get feedback at all. It’s entirely up to you how many drafts, rounds of feedback, and rounds of revision are needed for your book. When you’re completely finished revising, there’s one last step before submitting your manuscript to your editor: self-editing.
After that, you can hit “Send,” put up your feet, and enjoy a treat. You deserve it!