A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
I love revising. I love feeling that the story now exists and it’s my job to chip away at it and make it as good as it can be.
But I can’t tell you how to revise a manuscript. I can only tell you what I do. From talking to other writers, and reading this blog this week, I know there are as many ways to revise as there are writers. However, since I have developed this way of working, I have found the whole process much less stressful, so you might find something in it that chimes with you.
I always write a horrible first draft – it will be much too long, over-written, with perhaps three scenes all doing what could be achieved in one. I try to write the first draft quickly, but that depends on length and complexity. The first draft of my forthcoming novel, Star By Star, took four months, but it is a short book and the story came much more easily than usual. Street Song, by contrast, took over a year – but to be fair, I had to take time out of it to write 2015’s Name Upon Name, which was an unexpected commission. I generally feel that the first draft represents the half-way mark — a sort of base camp.
In theory I just keep moving forward with a first draft, but in practice I cheat a bit. I always start the day by reading what I did the day before and will give it a bit of an edit on the way. And if, as often happens, I find I have written myself into the wrong direction, I’ll stop and reverse rather than waste time later. For example, halfway through Star By Star I realised that I was using two characters for a role which could better be played by one. I went back and changed the earlier chapters to allow for this before continuing. I should say here that I am very much a planner, but a planner who expects to be surprised.
I don’t print until I get to the end of the draft, but then I both print and have it spiral bound – which is cheap and easy, and gives the advantage of turning the MS into a portable book, with plenty of space for notes on the left hand page – I always print single sided. That empty page is important to me: it reminds me that I’m far from finished, that there is still work to be done and that nothing, at this stage, is final. I always edit on hard copy. I see things very differently than on screen, and I like to have a pen in my hand when I edit. People sometimes laugh at the way I use different colours, etc, but that’s just what works for me. I’m visual. I’m also very goal-orientated, so I will give myself a timetable and try to stick to it, and I always keep a note of what I get done each day. This started when I first went on a retreat – I think I wanted to justify myself in some way, but I found it so helpful that I do it all the time. This also allows me to buy stationery – because a notebook full of editing notes is, in my opinion, a very lovesome thing indeed.
For me the main thing about revising is that I do it in stages and I don’t expect to achieve too much at once. On a first read through I will note problems – generally in green pen, but don’t try for solutions. I might note, for example, that a passage drags or that something isn’t making sense, plot-wise. Often these notes are merely questions for myself. On a second pass I will write in the solution – generally in red pen. Then I will type up the changes. Now I have a second draft, and this is the draft I tend to share with one or two trusted readers – often writer friends. After their feedback, I basically repeat the process as necessary until I have something I feel is ready to go to my agent – or my editor if the work is already under contract. Once I get their notes, depending on the changes needed, I may need to do it all again. But that depends on the book. Still Falling took many drafts to get right; Star By Star basically came out right at a very early stage.
I have a rough sort of ‘editing mountain’ in my mind, which represents the different stages – here it is, drawn specially for you!
I’ll say again – this isn’t a ‘how-to’; it’s merely a ‘what I do.’ But I will say that it is a kind way to work, as you aren’t expecting too much from yourself in one go, and it allows time between stages for you to have all those insights that might just change the work for the better. And that’s the really magical bit.