Every writer has their favorite part in the process. For me is the beginning of a new story. I love to explore the new world, meet characters, and see the adventure unfold in front of me. What comes right after has my squinting my face; the horror of revising.
A lot of authors struggle with revising. They fear that their story will change. They also dread the amount of work it takes and feels saturated with the story. Revising, however, makes the storytelling more effective, helps resolve plot holes, and cleans up the overall writing.
For the longest time, I finished up after writing the first draft. After that, my attention wandered elsewhere. Revising and editing was a real fight. Until I realized that my approach wasn’t serving my readers. I wasn’t writing my best work after all.
When I dove into it, I found out why I struggled and found ways to deal with it. A strategy, if you will. And now? Now I’m enjoying putting my work through it and cleaning it up as much as I can. Here’s how I do it.
Let it rest
The biggest cause of my struggle was my attention span. Right after finishing a story, I need to close it off mentally. When I write, that world comes to life. When the story ends, I need to step away from it. I cannot relive the same story again. That feels like groundhog day to me.
The best thing I can do with a first draft is to let it rest after I just finished it. Let it be. Don’t look at it, don’t pick it up, and continue to the next story. There will come a time that it feels right to pick it up again. That might be two weeks later, that might be two years later. Both are just fine. It’s not going anywhere after all.
I can disassociate from the story as a writer and read it and experience it as an outsider for the first time when I take my distance. I love that. I look at it with fresh eyes. That helps when you revise because inconsistencies will suddenly stand out like a sore thumb.
Luckily I am not the only one that believes in this method. Stephen King (yes THE King) writes his first draft in three months, then lets it rest for a month, to revise after that. He describes his process in his book On Writing. A book I highly recommend, especially if you want to become more serious about your work.
Have a beta reader (or more)
After I finish my second draft (or sometimes even the third), I send my story off to one or two of my beta readers. These were often my friends (who are also avid readers and writers), but this slowly shifted to hiring people that are not close to me. This prevents me from biased opinions and offers me clean feedback. (My friends still get to read the stories btw).
Why do I need that? Because the input of a beta reader is of immense value. They can point out the plot holes, where the story weakens, and confusing scenes. That extra set of eyes can also help you zoom in on the character growth, the rhythm of the story, and the reader’s experience.
This feedback, though valuable, is mostly a matter of personal taste. It is what opinion of just one person. My advice is to follow your gut. Add, remove, and adapt according to their advice, as long as it feels good. And if it doesn’t, ask yourself why.
When you buddy up with a beta reader, you want to have specific questions ready. Do not ask them to read and tell you what to think, but zoom in on the important things. Questions I asked my beta reader were if my protagonist can carry the story alone, if it drags at places, and if the language is clear. English is my second language, after all.
Be fully honest with yourself in this process. Does the feedback improve your story, or does it take it in a whole different direction? And is that direction a bad one, or are they on to something? Don’t be stubborn, but don’t be a push-over either. Find a middle ground.
As I write this, I am waiting for the feedback of my beta reader to return. It makes me extremely nervous because I want my novella, The Hunt, to come out this year. I want to share it with you all because I am so excited about this story. But to give you the same experience as I had while writing it, I need to sharpen it. So I know why I am doing it.
All it takes is for this to be a success is putting your ego aside. When you are a professional writer (or aspiring to become one), you cannot take feedback personally. It’s there to improve you, to help you. Approach it as such, and you are golden.
Have a proofreader
Once you have worked out all the kinks in your story, it’s time to sand it down. A proofreader checks the story for sentences that are confusing, fishes out double spaces and typos, and uses the dreaded red pen for grammar and spelling issues. They help you tweak the text. This way it stays fluid, which improves the reading experience.
It is important to make good agreements before you let somebody proofread your work. It is important that you both have an understanding of what goes and doesn’t go. Some writers don’t mind it when the proofreader makes minute changes like removing extra spaces or typos, others prefer it when it is pointed out. Some like to work in word, others in the drive. Be on the same page.
Proofreaders like some general information before they start their work on a story. Think about the word count, the genre, and if you have specific areas you want or need help in. If you know you write run-on sentences often, you struggle with comma placement, or you tend to switch up your tenses, let them know. They will tune to that.
Proofreaders focus on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They are not there to give you in-depth feedback on your story arch, character development, or plot holes. You need a beta reader if you want to dive into those questions. Again make sure that you and your proofreader are on the same page, so you both know what to expect.
I must say that I do like to have my rough draft read by a proofreader before I send it off to a beta reader. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling flaws can distract the reader. I write in English, but it is not my native language. Dutch, which is my mother tongue, can be quite the opposite when it comes to the rules. So sometimes I mix things up. Hence me having a proofreader before a beta reader.
I think it is important that you find a process that works for you. If that means that you need multiple beta reading and proofreading sessions, so be it. You will find that you learn something every single time.
Have an editor
When you have revised your story with all the feedback that the beta and proofreaders provided you with, and you think you are ready to publish or send your manuscript off, you want to make one last stop. You want your work to be read by an editor.
Many people confuse a proofreader for an editor, but there is a vast difference. Where the beta reader helps with carving and the proofreader with sanding down the story, the editor will help you polish it. They aim to make you shine.
An editor will be even more specific than the beta and proofreader. They will focus on your tone of voice, language, and sentence structure. They will get down to word-level so that your text will have more clarity. Oddly enough they possess the magic to make you sound more like you.
When you work with an editor be prepared to dive in deep. Think about your areas of focus, before engaging the editor. You can ask them to look at your choice of words, the consistency in your tenses, or what words you can cut out, for example.
An editor’s job is to make sure that what you write, meets the wishes and the needs of your audience. They analyze if your story is appropriate and if the quality is high enough. It is the most extensive part of revising. So buy yourself a box of chocolate, some tissues, and plow through!
Keep your eyes on the prize
I cannot stress enough how important it is to be fully honest with yourself. None of these people can help you if you aren’t open to it. That can bruise your ego a little bit, make you hesitant, and even be the reason for tears (not even kidding), but in the end, you go through this to become a better writer.
So, when you struggle with revising, keep your goal in mind. You want your readers to enjoy your story as much as you did. You want to whisk them away into a new world. Your work needs to be clean and straight to the point for that. It takes hard work and grit. But guess what, you are an author. That’s what we are made of.
So go on… finish that masterpiece. You got this!