You finished your first draft–congratulations!
One of the best feelings in the world is penning those two magical words: THE END.
So what’s next?
If the purpose of drafting is to get the words on the page, revision is all about refining, perfecting, and polishing those words to make your story the best it can be. And just like every other stage of the journey, different methods work for different authors. We’ve shared tips that can apply to writers of all stripes below, or you can take advantage of our story coach mindset even further by following our step-by-step revision roadmap to get you to a publish-ready manuscript.
After finishing your first draft, it’s important to gain some much-needed perspective before you jump into revisions. You’ve spent a lot of time slaving over your manuscript, and after completing it, you’re just too close to it. So stick it in a drawer while you take a break or focus on something else. In 3-4 weeks, you’ll be able to view it with the objectivity needed to see what needs work.
Do a Full Read-Through
Once you’ve gained some distance from your work-in-progress, read it through from start to finish. Don’t do any revisions here. Instead, make notes of the problems, questions, areas that just don’t sound right, and concerns that jump out at you. This will become a framework for what you’ll focus on during the rest of the revision stage.
Where Do I Start?
This is the part that stumps most writers because first drafts are messy, and there’s just so much to fix. So how do you start your revisions? Ideally, you’ll want to examine all the important elements of your story and revise them as needed. A shortlist of our suggestions includes the following:
The list isn’t exhaustive, but we believe these are the most important parts. Feel free to augment as needed.
Use your notes from that first read-through to figure out what to work on in each of these areas. But just as helpful are any resources you created in the planning stage—story maps, character profiles, scene-level plotting, and worldbuilding surveys. Compare those initial plans to how they turned out in your story to see where things may have gone off the rails or if any aspect needs to be tweaked for consistency or reimagined altogether.
How Many Revision Rounds Are Needed?
By now you should have a pretty good list of issues you’ll need to tackle during the revision stage. So the question becomes: how long should you allocate for this part of the process? The over-simplified answer: as long as it takes.
Writers have different revision methods, and each story will require its own amount of work. One popular method is to do a revision round for each of the main story elements—going through the manuscript and fixing, cutting, and fine-tuning just one element at a time. Then start again with the next element on the list.
Other writers find it easier to revise a chapter at a time, with many (or all) of the story elements in mind. With either method, you’re not looking for perfection; you just want to rough the changes in, then you can tidy it all up in future rounds as you go.
The important thing here is to find the process that will enable you to pinpoint your story’s issues and solve those problems. Whether it takes you 3 rounds, or 5, or 15, there really is no magic number. Just go until the story is as good as you can make it.
Critique Partners and Beta Readers
Once you’ve addressed the major problems, you’ll definitely want to get a second pair (or more) of eyes on your project. As with everything else in life, we don’t know what we don’t know. Enlisting the help of other writers to look at our work is a great way to get help figuring out how it can be strengthened. Then you can take their feedback and incorporate it into the revision process.
How Do You Know When You’re Done?
This can be the trickiest part of revising. Some writers want to rush through this stage and get on to the excitement of a starting a new project. Others get stuck here because they can’t stop seeing how their WIP can be improved. But the truth is that while revision is important, the best way to grow as a writer is to write. A certain amount of self-restraint is important in this part of the process so you can get back to actual writing.
A few options to help you know when it’s time to move on:
Establish a Deadline. Once you’ve done a few revision rounds, you should have an idea of how long you’ll need for the remaining passes. Set a date, at which point you’ll stop revising and decide on your next steps.
Set a Revision Round Maximum. If you know beforehand which story elements you want to cover during revisions, you can set a maximum number of rounds. This will make sure you’re not quitting the process without addressing all the necessary aspects while also ensuring you don’t spend too much time in this stage.
Beware the Fiddly Revisions. There comes a point when you’re just fiddling with words and phrases. If you find yourself revising the same sentences or fussing with small changes that have already been made, you’re done. Pay attention to your gut, and move on when you reach this point.
10 Steps to Revise Your Novel
For a Stronger Manuscript, Read it Aloud
How to Stay Organized During a Revision
Five Micro-Edits to Hook Readers
Feedback & Editing: The Right Eyes at the Right Time
Self-Editing: The Three Types of Edits
7 Ways to Find Telling in Your Writing
After the First Draft: Revising Your Plot
5 Areas to Polish Before Submitting a Manuscript
11 Techniques for Transforming Clichéd Phrasings
How to Kill Your Darlings
3 Signs It’s Time to Stop Editing that Manuscript
The Revision Circle: Does My Story Have Too Many Problems?
How to Evaluate Critique Feedback
Best Practices for Working with an Editor
Revising Scene by Scene
One Stop for Writers Tools and Resources
Editing Help: Crutch Words Checklist
Character Builder and Character Arc Blueprint
Revision Process Tip Sheet
*The Revision Roadmap (expert, step-by-step help & tools to get your first draft publish-ready):
Other Recommended Resources
(some affiliate links)
Writers Helping Writers Scene Revision Checklist
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Browne & King)
Revising Your Novel Step-By-Step (Janice Hardy)
Hooked (Les Edgerton)
Scene & Structure (Jack Bickham)
Pro Writing Aid