Five Stress-Free Steps to Revising Your Novel

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So you’ve written a book. Cue the confetti!

After you’ve cleaned all that up, and after you give yourself time away from your story (some recommend months—take as little or as much time as you need) to be able to come back with a fresh perspective.

Then, it’s time to revise. Some love it. Some hate it. Some just don’t know how to approach it without an overwhelming sense of dread and regret.

We have steps. Stress-free ones. It’s not as scary as you think.

For the purpose of this post, let’s assume you’re planning on going the traditional route, meaning you won’t actually self-publish. Let’s also assume you’re using Microsoft Word to house and edit your drafts. 

Step 1: Self-Publish a Proof Copy

So you might be thinking, excuse me? If I’m going to take the time to create and order a proof copy of my own book that no one else is ever going to see, why not just self-publish and be done with it?

Debates about self-publishing aside, the purpose of a proof copy is to make the early stages of your revisions feel less like work and more like a (hopefully) good read.

You can order a proof copy of your book for pretty cheap using CreateSpace, and if you don’t want to take the time to create an elaborate cover and format your own work, you really don’t have to. Again—no one else will see it unless you want them to.

Step 2: Read and Take Notes

If you prefer reading physical hard-copy books over e-books, that’s where the benefit of the physical proof copy comes in. But you can still implement this step if you’re just staring at your screen reading through your draft.

The key here is to read your book from start to finish, like you would a normal book. You can either mark things as you go or take notes on the side, but the point is to undergo a complete read-through to evaluate your overall work. Breaking it into pieces is easier when you’re able to identify weak points and major flaws.

Step 3: Open a New Document

Hear us out before you panic (remember, stress-free!). What you can try to do, if you’re having trouble breaking up your work, is to take small sections of your novel, one at a time, from your original draft, copy them and paste them into a new place.

Isolating the pieces one by one can help you feel less overwhelmed and make the task at hand seem much more manageable, especially if you’re trying to meet a deadline and can’t afford to procrastinate.

Alternative method: color-code your text. Choose one color for sections you’re editing, and color them white when you’re done with them. (Out of sight, out of stress?)

Step 4: Start with Grammar and Spelling

If you read through your book in its entirety and take notes along the way before making any changes, it’s possible you’ve already marked most of those pesky punctuation mix-ups and embarrassing misspellings.

For some, this is the easiest part of revising, and doing it first can fuel your motivation and self-boost your confidence when it comes time to editing for content. Do be aware, also, that spelling and grammar checkers don’t catch everything. 

Step 5: Be Mindful When Editing for Clarity and Content

The advantage of working with an editor is that they’re paid to make sure your book doesn’t just look nice, but that it also makes sense. They are able to see things you might not, like small plot holes and characters going by multiple first names unintentionally.

That being said, try not to make any big changes based on how you feel the book presents itself—if you’ve already finished and just aren’t feeling confident.

We really are our own worst critics. You want to show up with as authentic of a draft as possible—meaning it’s ready for review even if it’s not quite ready for publishing. Something you thought about taking out, but didn’t, could end up being the best part of the entire work (let’s be honest). If you can, wait for someone else to give an opinion before you change the story itself.

No matter the length and initial quality of your book, revising a full-length work—the revisions that come before you’re even ready to show it to someone else, like a potential agent—is a big job. While it’s important to celebrate and give yourself time to recharge, revisions have the potential to seriously “up” your publishing potential.

Take it slow. Be patient. Relax—you’ve made it this far. There’s no turning back now.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

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9 thoughts on “Five Stress-Free Steps to Revising Your Novel

  1. I love the idea to self-publish a proof copy. I’ve never thought of that before, but it makes great sense. It can feel so tedious to work with my unwieldy Word doc, and having a printed copy just feels a lot more fun.

    And I’ll admit, just the act of holding a printed copy of my book (draft or not) in my hands sounds incredibly satisfying.

    1. True story: received a proof copy of one of my books, opened up to the first page and found a typo I swear I’d never seen before. I think when you grow up reading print copes of books you just pay more attention to what’s on those pages!

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