I'll let you in on a secret - revising is my favorite part of the writing process. For real - I love tearing apart my old work, figuring out better ways to make words (as one does), and filling in everything that was missing the first time around.
To me, your first draft is really more of a skeleton - the outlines of my artwork. Often, the hardest part is just getting words down on the page. Once the words are written, it's often actually easier to see what you need to change.
Perfectionism will make you quit before you even get to the best part. Editing and revising are your author superpowers. Nothing is final until you say it is - so why not write something, highlight it to revisit later, and then keep moving? The key to your superpowers are three easy steps: 1) figuring out what needs to be revised/edited/changed/added/deleted/etc; 2) making a plan and getting organized about it; and 3) getting to work!
1. Figuring Out What to Revise
There are two types of revisions: the ones that will drive you crazy until you fix, because you know you didn't do it right the first time; and the ones you can't even see because you've been staring at this writing for hours on end, so you've gotten used to it. The secret to good revising is identifying both types of edits.
When You Know What's Wrong:
The biggest thing here is to keep a list somewhere that makes sense to you. I use google docs to write, so if I know there's a problem, I leave a comment, either at the top of the chapter, or at the spot I need to fix. These are two examples of the kind of comments I've left in Summer Twilight:
Often, as you're writing, you'll realize mistakes you've made, events you need to set up for them to make sense, or just stuff you think will make the story flow better. But then, when you step away from the page, it'll promptly leave your brain. Every revision you think of and don't write down is a lost opportunity. You don't have to do all the revisions, but you should note them somewhere. That way, you can pick and choose when you get to steps 2 and 3.
When You Can't Possibly Look at it Any Longer:
First of all - totally normal. This happens for me literally every day of my life, at my day job, in grad school, and in writing. There comes a point where you've just worked on something for so long that you have no idea if it even makes sense. This is when you activate your superhero sidekicks. Er, I mean friends.
Send your writing to people and ask for feedback. Ask a LOT of people for their input. My boyfriend and mom have read every chapter I've written, including multiple different versions as I've tried out their suggestions. I rely not just on professional editors, but alpha and beta readers to let me know what works and what doesn't. Not sure who to ask? What about:
Having a lot of people read your work will give you a good sense of how a wide audience may react. Make sure you ask for specific feedback. One of my author friends will send chapters out, then follow up with a google form asking specific follow ups (did this moment make sense? what do you think ____ is?). I personally ask for comments directly in my chapters. A secret to success here? Ask for both positive feedback and constructive criticism. This is a great way to figure out what your strengths are, and where you still need to grow.
Still not sure about it? Think of it this way: a video game developer never releases a new game without going through both alpha and beta testing. They get feedback on what the bugs are, what makes sense to players, and where players are frustrated. They add new features, tweak some things, and build a following. You're doing the exact same thing.
2. Getting Organized
Okay, now you should have more feedback than you know what to do with. You should also have a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses - and we all have them! For instance, I write great dialogue, but I also tend to write long, expository paragraphs telling my reader way more than they could ever possibly want to know about the world. I'm working on it (but also, here we are).
Sorting it All Out:
Now, you need to sort through the feedback, figure out what the common themes are (do you overuse the word "sigh"? Does your plot not make 100% total sense? Do you forget to describe the setting?). You should also start to think seriously about what feedback you plan on implementing, and what comments you're accepting as a feature, rather than a bug.
If you haven't figured it out yet - you're an author. That means you get final say in what does, and doesn't, end up in your book. There is no rule anywhere that says you absolutely must implement every single piece of feedback you ever get. You get to exercise your artistic expression.
That being said, there are some things to keep in mind when you're looking at feedback you've gotten:
Making a Plan:
Last but not least, make yourself a killer plan of attack. When you're decided what you do and do not want to revise, get yourself organized. I personally like to edit by chapter - I make notes for each chapter about what I think needs to be revised, and then I dive in chronologically. I use a couple of mediums - both my trusty blue moleskine notebook (with dots, not lines), and a creative note app I'm obsessed with named Milanote. I make one column with all my edits, then another I can drag and drop into once I've finished my edits. Bottom line? Figure out what works for you and your brain.
One of the biggest reasons this is important is that it'll help you work smart, not hard. Once you know exactly where your edits need to happen, you can figure out what to work on. For example, I reliably need to make more edits to the first act of my book than acts 2 or 3. Why? Because I tend to figure out my plot halfway through the book, and then I need to go back and set it up properly. That means when I'm revising, I always reserve the most time for my earlier chapters.
3. Make it Happen
Now comes the fun part - revising. Remember earlier when I said that I think about the first draft as drawing the outline of your work? Well, now you get to play with paints. There are a couple of key things to keep in mind here.
Kill Your Darlings:
An old writer's adage, killing your darlings basically means that no part of your work is safe from the red pen. In other words, everything is on the table. If someone suggests deleting three chapters out of the middle, you should consider it (I'm not saying do it, just think about it!) - because there's probably a reason.
This is personal for me, because my first book, Summer Twilight, went through a massive evolution. When I first started working with my developmental editor, I showed up with a draft that was 130k words - and about 2/3 of the way done. It was the first book in a series, and moved somehow both too quickly and too slowly to make total sense. I was completely in love with it.
Diplomatically, my editor suggested that maybe the story I was trying to tell was too long and unwieldy for simply one book, and it would be better served by breaking the goliath I was working on down into multiple books.
It was terrifying, because I'd poured everything I had into this book, this way. It was the plan - and I don't like change.
But trusting him, and chunking up Summer Twilight, is the best decision I could have possibly made. If I'd stayed wedded to my old format, I don't know if I would be publishing - and the book would certainly be less strong. Be willing to sacrifice portions of your writing, for the betterment of the entire story.
Do it Over and Over (and Over) Again:
Unfortunately, revisions are not a one-and-done deal. The most effective way to edit your work is through repetition, because as you change pieces, you'll discover new opportunities to switch things up, and make your work better. I revise in cycles:
So each chapter I write has gone through a minimum of 5 revisions - and probably more. Don't be afraid to go back multiple times, make small tweaks, and see how they work. Read for continuity, ask other people for input, and get excited.
This is the fun part.
Bridget is the author of Summer Twilight, available for purchase now!