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How To Revise A Novel

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Q:  I have a writing question.  Actually, a rewrite question.  What do you do when you’re so sick of your novel that you just want to tear it into shreds?  I’m trying to edit my writing so I can send my novel out to literary agents and publishers.  I used to think that learning how to write a book was the hardest part, but now I’m doing revisions and it feels like walking across broken glass.

A:  Ouch!  Just so you know, all writers struggle with this.  If you’ve already done some revising and then gotten stuck, you’ve probably saved the toughest revisions for last — which is a good idea, actually, so that you have a majority of the stuff done and out of the way.  Now, you’re down to the hardest part of revision.  But you can get through it with a simple 1-2-3 approach:

1)  When you’re feeling burned out and demoralized about your novel, sometimes the best thing to do is focus on the details instead of the big picture.  That means your best strategy is to tackle each segment of the revision one piece at a time.  Choose one aspect of your story that you want to revise and focus on it with laser-like intensity.  Ignore everything else until you’re finished with that one piece.  Then move on to the next.

2)  So how do you keep your inspiration fresh?  Take a little time to find the one thing in this part of the story that really gets you excited.  Maybe it’s an image, maybe a feeling, maybe a line of dialogue.  Whatever it is, start writing from there.  The creativity will naturally flow from your excitement.

3)  Once you’ve started working on one particular aspect of your rewrite, keep hammering on it until it’s done.  Don’t stop and switch to something else.  If you have another idea, make a quick note and then go back to what you were doing.

That’s it!  You already know how to write a novel; now you’re learning how to revise.  It’s a learned skill, trust me.  But if you follow these simple steps, you’ll be done before you know it.  Good luck!

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  1. Chris Devlin

    Good advice, though I notice you didn't mention that one technique you have of writing the whole thing over again word for word? Or was that a private matter? Helpful suggestions, thanks.

  2. Laurence MacNaughton

    Oh, sure, I write a bunch of drafts in the process of doing a novel manuscript. In every new draft, I'll add or subtract characters, move scenes into new settings, add or delete chapters, do major stuff like that. In that case, it's just easier to write a whole new version. Once I've finally gotten everything settled, then I start to polish it scene by scene. (Until I get notes like, “This third of the book doesn't work.” Then it's back to page one again!)

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