The Five Stages of Novel Revision

Pick an emotion…any emotion…

The other day I watched a video by James Andrew Wilson, called The Emotional Stages of Writing a Novel. It’s both funny and true, so if you’re a writer (or even if you’re not) you should go and watch it.

Having recently been asked by an editor to revise a novel*, I think there are several stages to that process, as well. Here they are:

1. Elation Disappointment Disalation? I don’t know what to call this stage. Someone likes your novel and has said nice things about it! They think it has promise! Hurray! But you have to change things. It’s not perfect. The road ahead is paved with hard, hard work. Wah! It’s wonderful and horrible at the same time. You need a drink, some ice cream, or (insert favorite comfort item here) while it all sinks in.

2. Despair You don’t know how to do this. You can’t do this! Those changes won’t work! They’re too hard! They’ll wreck your novel! You can’t cut that subplot because then no-one will understand why the vagrant had to be blind. You can’t cut the busboy character because wasn’t it obvious that he was the one who saw the murder and reported it anonymously to the police? And how can the novel work at all without the circus? *headdesk*

3. Planning Okay, you just need to take a while and think about this. Think, and make a lot of notes. Maybe buy one of those huge whiteboards and diagram the entire novel on it. No! Better still, paint a wall of your office with chalkboard paint and diagram it there! Also, print out all the editor’s comments and highlight them with different colors according to level of importance, then glue them onto giant pieces of bristol board and brainstorm revision ideas around them! Oh yes, the pieces are all going to fall into place now…

4. Actual Work Half the time allotted for the revisions has now flown past. You’ve started seven different methods for working out how to fix your novel, but they’re all too much work or are too confusing. Finally you sit down with a printout of your novel and a red pen, and start reading and making notes. When you’re done, you start typing in your changes. It takes you all the rest of the time you’ve got and you have to alienate your family and friends to get it finished, but you do it. You think it stinks.**

5. Collapse You’ve sent in the revision just in time. By now you hardly care if the editor likes it or not–all that matters is that it’s done and you don’t have to look at the horrible thing any more…at least until the editor emails you…

*more details on that another day
** or you think it’s brilliant. Don’t worry, that won’t last.

Summer Project

So, that Bare Knuckle Writer really knows how to pull the strings and make me dance, whether intentionally, or not. She’s got me blogging more often (almost, like, regularly), and yesterday she threw down a gauntlet. (Yeah, she’s a little confrontational, but in a very endearing way.)

You really should go and read her entire post, because it’s fun and quirky as usual, but here’s the gauntlet part:

Every writer’s got one. That project whose time never comes. All it needs is a little love, but somehow it keeps getting pushed back in favour of new things and shinier ideas…This is its time. Dig that thing out, take it out to the back deck or the beach or the patio with you, and get to work.

And…she’s right. Of course she’s right. Who doesn’t have one (or more) of those projects, whether it’s a half-finished story, a novel, or something else? Honestly, I have more than I care to admit, but I’m not going to think about that or I’ll start crying into my keyboard. Or start a new chocolate binge. Possibly both. But I digress.

After reading the challenge yesterday, I printed out the manuscript you see in the photo above. It’s so close to being done that you can almost smell the done-ness on it. One more line-edit pass, that’s all it needs. It’s already been rewritten, revised, substantively edited and mostly line-edited.

Why has it been lying around for so long in this state of almost-finished-ness? Because it’s a bit of a strange project. A bit unclassifiable. A mash-up of genres. In plain words, I have no idea who might want to publish it.

But that’s not really the point, is it? The problem of what to do with it is not a problem until it’s done. So I’ll finish it. And then I’ll worry about what to do with it.

Sounds like a plan. BKW, I hope you’re reading this.

Self-Editing For Dummies

By Kadellar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsOh, calm down, I’m not really calling you dummies. But after thinking about my post the other day regarding the dearth of attention paid to editing lately, I realized that some portion of the blame must come to rest on the author, as well. The better we are at self-editing, the lesser our dependence on outside editors to catch all those little things that are dragging our stories down. Which, of course, puts us in a better light–both when editors and publishers read our submissions, and when our work (eventually, hopefully) finds its way into the hands of our readers.

So–how do you become a better self-editor?

1. Practice. Repeat after me: the first draft is not a finished work. Yes, you may complete your first draft in a rush of adrenaline and endorphins and think it’s the best thing anyone has ever written, anywhere. It’s not. Never send out something until that first fine rush has ebbed and you start to doubt. Once the doubt is there, you can start looking for all the things that are wrong, and begin to fix them. And fix them, and fix them, and when you think they’re fixed, see #2, below.

2. Other Eyes. My friend Steph has a great post over here about the necessity and value of first readers. The more eyes you can get on your work–knowledgeable, practiced eyes–the more chances you have of finding those things that editors will (or should) only fix later anyway. So those problems won’t be there to trip up your readers later.

3. Tools. Don’t underestimate the value of your word processor’s built-in spell-check and grammar-check; at the very least, they should make you slow down and look at possible problematic areas of your work. But they’re only the very minimal basics. One tool I love is Cliché Cleaner. Run your work through this handy little program to find clichés, overused expressions, and internal repetitions. It’s amazing how much one tool like this can help you clean up your work. You may have your own favorite cleanup tools–just don’t forget to use them.

4. Distance. Remember that first rush we talked about, that comes with completion of your first draft? One way to avoid falling victim to its siren song and sending your story out too soon is to get some distance from the work. Let it sit until it’s no longer totally fresh in your mind–a week, a month, even longer if you have the luxury. There’s nothing like coming back to it with some heightened objectivity to clear away the tint of those rose-coloured glasses.

5. Humility. No matter how competent or skilled a writer you are, you will always benefit from remembering that you are not perfect and neither are your early drafts. Expecting that your work will need polishing allows you to see its flaws more easily. Accepting that others will spot problems that you haven’t seen will make you more open to using their suggestions wisely.

For more advice on good self-editing, I highly recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King. Got your own self-editing favorites? Share them in the comments!

Image courtesy of Kadellar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Where Have All The Editors Gone?

Okay, okay, I know that all the editors have not gone away. I know that there are many dedicated editors out there slaving away in the word mines to help writers wrangle their manuscripts into things of beauty. I do not want the entire Internet editorial community to descend upon me, angrily wielding their blue and red pens as weapons of vengeance.


I detect a noticeable lack of editorial input in far too many of the books I read these days.

If you follow me on Goodreads or take note of my occasional reading update posts hereabouts, you’ll know that I am not a snob when it comes to reading. I read traditionally published books, I read self-published books, I read e-only books, I listen to audiobooks and self-produced audiobooks. If it sounds interesting to me, I don’t quibble about the format or the provenance, I’ll give it a try.

In fact, I will even cut some slack to the authors who are self-pubbing, to a certain extent. If the writing and plotting and characterization and ideas are strong overall, I can forgive a few little grammatical or syntactical missteps. I usually find it a bit sad when a story fails to reach its full potential due mainly to a lack of editing, but it won’t make me bail on the story.

But traditional publishers, I have to say: I hold you to a higher standard. I expect that you will have given your authors the benefit of proper editorial input. You are supposed to be the “gatekeepers”, after all; the setters-of-standards. This is not to say that I expect to love every traditionally published book–there’s no accounting for taste, and there are plenty of (IMHO) bad tradpub books. But regardless of how far they fall short of my expectations in story or plot, I expect them to be line edited.

And I am disappointed, with increasing frequency of late.

I expect words to be used properly. “Occupied” is not the same thing as “preoccupied”.

I expect you to weed out repetitions. When the word “faience” comes up five times in three pages, it’s kind of noticeable.

I expect that characters’ names will remain the same throughout the story.

(Sadly) I could go on. But I won’t. Maybe I’m just in an editorial frame of mind lately, having recently finished an intense bout of line editing for Unearthed. And I won’t say I caught everything there, either. But if traditional publishers want to continue to publish good authors–if they want to be thought of as some kind of legitimizing force in publishing, I think they owe their authors something. And their readers, too.

I think they need to spill a little more corrective ink on those manuscripts. Or soon there’ll be nothing at all setting them apart. And then where will they be?

Image courtesty of jppi.

Back to work

old typewriter keys It’s been a bit of a hiatus, both from editing and from blogging, the last couple of weeks. Last week was the kids’ spring break, so I really didn’t expect to get much work done–and I was correct.

But today was back-to-school, so it was back-to-work for me as well. It’s a grey, rainy day here, which I hope explains why I was actually nodding off over the manuscript a few times! I did make it through a chapter or so, however, and input some changes into the master document, so it was a decent beginning. I expect this phase, which consists mainly of adding all the details I haven’t added before this and polishing up the writing, to take about two weeks if I can work on it consistently.

Photo courtesy of mconnors

The week behind, the week ahead

Last week I did nothing on the novel editing. Nothing. I have a fresh copy of the manuscript all printed and waiting patiently for the not-so-gentle attentions of my red pen, but it spent the week unscathed.

Instead of editing, I was running the book fair at my son’s school, which ultimately results in a lovely pile of new books for the school library, and I spent one school day doing Writers In the Schools presentations at another local school. While both undertakings were highly successful, they precluded any notions of working on the edit, and although I might have squeezed in a bit of time on it here or there, I honestly didn’t try. My brain was not in the right place and had too much other stuff filling up the forefront of it to believe that I’d really accomplish anything useful.

One very nice thing that happened at the school presentations was that I read the opening of my middle-grade novel, “The Seventh Crow” to three classes. In each case they listened with rapt attention and begged for more, so that was a very encouraging test-run.

The upcoming week should be a different story with regard to the editing. I hope to work at it every day, but I don’t really have any idea of how quickly it will go or where I want to be on it by weeks’ end. Have to wait and see on that one. I also have to look to the March issue of The Scriptorium this week and try to write some more on a story I want to submit by the end of March, as well as keep moving on Third Person Press work, so…it’s going to be busy.

However, if you read this blog with any regularity, you already know that’s the story of my life… ;)

*Photo by malko at

Phase Two Edits–Complete!

Photobucket Today I made it through the last of my editing notes, added the last bits that I knew were needed, and called it a wrap on phase two of the novel edit. I’ve added about 7000 new words during this phase, which was good.

One more phase to go–the one I call “making it pretty.” This means I’ll be line-editing the whole thing and looking for places to add description and sensory images, deepening characterization, and just basically polishing the entire thing until it (hopefully) shines.

I’m getting tired of looking at it, but I find this upcoming phase of revision is usually very satisfying, and not as much hard work as the last phase. It’s a strange mix of right-and-left brain work that I generally find invigorating. I have the school book fair and a school visit coming up in the next week and a half, though, so I don’t expect to have a lot of time to work through it until those things are over. I’m going to posit another two to three weeks to get to the end, which is not bad. I’ll be quite pleased if I can make that deadline.