Revision Tricks and Tips: Or, How to Make Your Manuscript Less Awkward than I was at Senior Prom

I finished a new first draft a month ago. My beautiful baby novel went through the wash once, and then I sent it off to school (aka, my betas). It came back to me marked up with all of the writing tics I forgot I had and some that I

awk prom
Awkward picture of me at my senior prom. I can only assume if my manuscripts were personified, they would look about as awkward as me as an eighteen year old. (Photo credit, or blame, Megan Sugrue)

must have just added to my repertoire. My baby novel is growing up, and I need to pretty it up before I let it go to prom ( I don’t know if my agent thinks of herself that way, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯).

I’d love to hear about your revision processes, and since sharing is caring, I’ll go first:

  1. I never send out anything from a draft until I finish the whole thing first. I need to get from A-Z before I realize that I skipped letters J-T and need to tidy it up.
  2. After I finish my first draft, I reread to make sure the pacing works and there aren’t any obvious plot holes.
  3. I print the manuscript— the whole dang thing– and hand it off to a small round of betas. These folks let me know the obvious bone-headed things I did, point out a few grammar things, and give an overall reaction. Does it read like a book? Did you get bored? Where? If you’re working with betas for the first time, I find it helps to give them a set of questions or concerns to read for. If someone just asks me, “What did you think?” I don’t know what to zoom in on.
  4. I take the paper copies, marked up with their notes, and reread the manuscript. Often I’ll find places to cut or deepen, and I interact with their notes. I start to find my “most-used” words and phrases and places where the voice feels off for a particular character.
  5. Then I take a little break. I read, I actually go to the gym, I grade papers (blerg). I took a week off this time, and probably should have taken more, but I missed my characters. By the time that I got back to the page, I had at least a little distance and could start to cut my darlings (sorry metaphor about melting ice cream!) At this step, I start to check for sentence and word variety. I make a Wordle to come up with my most-used words. I check for passive voice, or lazy metaphors (too many ‘likes’
    was
    Gee, thanks, MS Word.

    makes me feel like a Valley Girl, even if a poetic one).

  6. Finally, I put on my grown-up-writer-pants and send the newly polished manuscript, which I feel pretty good about at this point, to my nails-tough betas/CPs. They often give me line-level comments with lots of question marks and “Did you notice that you…”s in them.
  7. I apply critiques where I see fit, put the MS aside, and then forward the whole thing to my Kindle for a final read-through on a platform that looks like a book. Reading the MS like I would something for pleasure changes my perspective in a way that helps for my final read through.

I’m still working through the final beta-reads and tweaks for this manuscript, but hopefully by the time it leaves my inbox it will be less awkward than my prom pictures, like this one where I inexplicably have a lightsaber.

lightsabers cut
Post-prom was at Dave and Busters. No judgement.

What steps work for you when you revise?

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3 thoughts on “Revision Tricks and Tips: Or, How to Make Your Manuscript Less Awkward than I was at Senior Prom

  1. *wipes tear* They grow up so fast. You’ll be a grandma before you know it.

    I have some amazing alpha readers/critique partners who read raw chapters as I finish them. I started doing this after my first novel where, to use your analogy, I spent a year writing A-Z before realising several letters were missing but not consecutive ones, meaning I had to rewrite every single part. Never again! Plus, having people waiting for the next chapter gives me the kick up the butt I need to write the next one.

    With alpha feedback, I edit as I go. When it’s done I polish it up and send it off to betas. As feedback comes in I fix minor stuff, and only decide whether to act on big-picture stuff once everybody has commented. I find there’s always one person who hates everything (and whose feedback really boils down to “I wish you had written a different book”) and several instances of polar opposite feedback–one adores Character X, another wants her to die in a fire. One thinks this joke was the best in the book, another thought it was the weakest.

    With the alpha-reading process, I rarely have any significant changes to make after beta’ing. If I do, I try to find a couple of fresh readers and ask them about the changed element in particular.

    Then I put the manuscript away for a while, come back with fresh eyes for a final polish, then send it off to my Superagent.

    Distance is definitely the most important element of editing. It’s amazing what you can see when you read the manuscript after a month of ignoring it.

    Liked by 1 person

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