Five Stress-Free Steps to Revising Your Novel


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.

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♥