Revisions Are a Trip to Hell and Back: How to Survive Editing an 80,000-word Novel In 10 Easy Steps

1: Do not panic.

Now that I’ve decided to do one last editorial comb through Reminiscence, the 83,000-something-word novel I wrote last summer, I’ve realized several things. One: editing is the worst part of the writing process. It’s like ripping apart your art into tiny pieces and trying to put them back together a different way than they were before. It’s time-consuming, depressing, and it makes you feel like a complete idiot. I seriously feel like the worst writer ever today. But it’s all worth it in the end.

2: Separate your drafts.

 You can’t just have one file on your computer with your book on it. You should have as many as you need—the first draft, the one you save triumphantly when you tap the last period; the first draft edit, the one you pick through to find typos and spelling errors; and then, you should have several others; the ones you comb through vigorously, rewriting sections, changing names, deleting chapters, etc.

I didn’t start doing this until a few years ago, until one of my English teachers told me it’s healthy to go back and look at how you’ve improved as a writer over time. When I realized I couldn’t do that, since I’d made all my changes and then saved over the old text, I started hitting “Save As” a lot more frequently.

3: Do not trust Spell and Grammar check.

It will not catch your night/might typos, wordy paragraphs, or run-on sentences. You have to pick through the text on your own to find these easy-fix mistakes. Besides, when it underlines the last name you made up fifty thousand times, well, that just makes you want to turn it off anyway.

4: Take your time.

I usually go chapter-by-chapter–especially on the novel I’m revising now, since the chapters are so short. Sometimes I take breaks in-between, and sometimes I don’t. If I come across a chapter that I know is going to need some serious reconstruction, I skip it and keep going. So yes, saving the difficult parts for last is your best bet. I’m still trying to figure out Chapter Two. It’s severely wounded.

5: Don’t give up.

Your novel is your baby. Just like writing, if you abandon it in the middle of revisions, it’s like leaving it out in the cold without a sweater. It needs you to help it improve and grow. Once you’re done with it, it really doesn’t care what you do with it—within reason, of course. But until then, keep at it.

6: No novel is perfect.

I find imperfections in published novels all the time. So what you’ve got on your screen in front of you has absolutely no chance of coming out perfect. Being picky is necessary when revising, but being a perfectionist will only prolong the process. Do your final revisions, be happy with what you’ve got, and move on.

7: Never delete your documents.

To this day, I still regret deleting the first “novel” I ever wrote. I was fourteen, a young writer, and embarrassed with my eighty pages of blah. So one day I just deleted it. And now, even if I would have wanted to, I can’t go back and look at how far I’ve come since the beginning of my freshman year—the beginning of my quest to write a decent novel (still trekking through valleys, but at least I’m out of the swamp). Don’t ever delete anything you write, even if it makes you cringe. You never know: it may come in handy some day.

8: Let your friends critique it, even if you hate it.

If you’re lucky enough to have friends with lots of time on their hands, see if they’ll read your masterpiece. Even if it’s just a chapter, a section, a page, or a sentence, anything helps. As an artist, your mind is never going to be fully satisfied with what you create. Therefore, you can’t always see how good your work actually is. Having someone you trust read through it may just boost your confidence—and they might even find a few little things you missed while you were in hell (revising, of course).

9: Once you’re done, don’t go back.

Even if it’s been months, and you’re itching to read your novel, don’t. You will always find something wrong, something you don’t like, and will want to fix it. This is BAD. You’ve already been through revisions, the equivalent to a root canal—don’t make yourself go back. Leave it alone, and let other people enjoy it. If, that is, you decide to follow suggestion #8.

10: Be proud.

You wrote a novel! Not only did you sit down and get it all out, but you sat down and revised it! If that’s not an accomplishment, I don’t know what is. There are a lot of people in this world that would never have enough patience to do what you’ve done. So celebrate! Have some ice cream, or go out with some friends. After all, you’ve just finished writing a novel—what else are you going to do?

Now it’s time to follow my own advice and get back to editing. Good luck! I hope to see y’all on the other side.

Love&hugs, Meg♥