Basics of Writing, part IX: How to Revise a Manuscript or Story


It’s been a few weeks since my last “Basics” post, and with Ed’s post on Saturday about responding to rejections and working on rewrites, I thought that a post on revisions might be in order.

In recent discussions on self-publishing, both here on MW and also at ConCarolinas, I made a point of saying again and again, that writers cannot edit their own work.  That, of course, is a ridiculous statement that I should have clarified.  Yes, we can edit our own work.  We can revise and cut and polish and make our work read better.  What we can’t do is be our own sole editor.  We can’t possibly catch everything that is wrong with our own manuscripts.  We’re too close to them, we know them too well, and more to the point, we know too well what we meant to write even if that’s not actually what found it’s way onto the screen or page.  When we read through them we will identify and fix some problems, but we will gloss over others.

I bring this up at the outset because a) I want to make it clear that all of us should take the time to rework our books, and b) I want to make it clear that all the self-editing in the world can’t replace having a professional editor look at your manuscript before it is published in whatever form you choose.

So, what are the keys to successful self-editing? To me, the most important thing I need when I begin to rework a book is distance.  Distance from the writing process, distance from the emotions and ambitions I entertained while writing it, distance from the characters who were speaking to me while I wrote.  Why is distance so crucial?  Because I don’t want to read this book as the guy who wrote it.  I want to get as close as possible to the reading experience of those who will be judging its quality and commercial viability.  They don’t know what I intended to do with the book; they don’t know the backgrounds of my various characters.  They only know what the book tells them.  And so I want to read the book with their experience in mind.  Now, of course, I then want to turn around and fix the problems I find in a way that feeds into my creative experience, that reinforces all the stuff I’ve been trying to do as writer-guy.  There is a balancing act here, and it’s not always easy to carry off.

How do I get that distance? I have any number of techniques that I use to distance myself from a book.  Some of them work better than others.  All of them work better when combined with others than they do if used alone.  The first and most obvious thing I do is put the manuscript away for a while.  Stick it in a drawer and don’t look at it for several weeks.  Four weeks is good.  Six weeks is better.  When I’m working on a deadline this can be difficult to pull off; right now I’m not, and so I can put stuff away for as long as I want and go work on other projects.  That’s ideal for me, because distancing myself from a manuscript should not be an excuse not to work.

When I read the manuscript through for the first time after putting it away, I usually will read it aloud.  Yes, that’s a form of distance as well.  Reading to myself it becomes too easy for me to slip into writer mode, to begin glossing over stuff that I “know” is just fine.  When I read aloud, I treat it like a formal reading at a convention.  I become more conscious of syntax, of rhythm and dynamics, and I catch stuff I would otherwise miss.

I also try to read the book with one of my usual Beta readers in mind.  I actually treat it as a role-playing exercise.  Instead of reading as David, I try to read as Jim (my editor), or Lucienne (my agent — I believe you’ve met her), or Nancy (my wife), or Faith (I think you know her, too….)  I look for things that I know would bother them or make them hesitate.  Again, the idea is to distance the reading experience from the writing experience.  This works well for me.

Since I write on the screen, I will print out the manuscript to edit it.  Again, that takes me out of the writing experience and makes the reading of the book different.  It also allows me to respond to problems I find on the page, with pen or pencil.  I can be writer-guy, but in a way that separates this reading from the writing I did at my computer.

I’ve suggested this one before:  If you’re not yet comfortable editing yourself, go back and read something you wrote years ago.  You’ll see the improvements you’ve made in your writing.  You’ll also notice mannerisms and bad habits that you can still find in your current work.  Mostly, you’ll see your work in a different light, because here the distance is truly great.  When you then go back to the more recent manuscript, you’ll have a sense of what sort of things you ought to be looking to fix in your work.  And, once again, you’ll also see the various ways you’ve grown as a writer, and that’s always gratifying.

What things DON’T I do when revising? First and foremost, I don’t retreat into rewrites before the book is finished.  I push through and complete the book.  Writing for me is momentum-dependent.  If I stop writing to revise, I will lose all my momentum, and the book will languish.  That’s my experience, and it might not hold true for you, but still I would urge you to keep writing and finish the book.  There are times — after a vacation, or after I’ve had to step away from a project for something else, say copyedits on an older book — when I will go back and read through the manuscript as it exists so far.  That’s fine.  And I’ll even fix a few minor things as I find them.  But I will not go back and do a wholesale rewrite.  Instead, I have an “Edits” file on my computer (as well as a handwritten version) into which I dump all my revision notes as they crop up.  So that if I realize in chapter 10 that I need to repair something I did in chapter 2 — an element of my character work or worldbuilding — or if I discover a plot strand that needs to be reworked, I will jot it down in the “edits” file and keep moving forward.

I also don’t make huge cuts in the manuscript.  I will trim here and there for brevity and word economy.  But if there is a section that I’m considering removing, I will usually keep it until I present the manuscript to my editor, agent or Beta readers.  Why?  Because on some level I have to trust the work that writer-guy did.  I put that section in there for a reason.  It may be that my readers will confirm my suspicions that it needs to be shortened or eliminated entirely, but I would rather wait on that to be sure.  But again, this is just me, and I’m sure that the other writers in the group might well disagree.

Finally, I do not overwork the manuscript, at least not if I can help it.  There is, in my opinion, no such thing as a perfect manuscript.  Each of us brings to a book — as reader or writer — our own tastes and preferences.  I could spend ten years reworking a manuscript until I had convinced myself that every word was perfect, and the first person to read the thing might still find 500 changes that she would like to see me make.  Better to do what I can and then send it out and work on the next thing.  I can’t make it perfect, and more to the point, in trying — vainly — to do so, I can lose the spark, the passion, the raw energy that made the story work in the first place.  I can make it too precious, too studied, and thus dry and flat.

There is, of course, far more to be said about the revision process, and I might return to this subject again.  But for now, let’s discuss this stuff.  What works for you when you revise?  What doesn’t?

David B. Coe

28 comments to Basics of Writing, part IX: How to Revise a Manuscript or Story

  • As I said on Edmund’s post, I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of revising before I was finished. Even worse, I’ve submitted it to beta readers before it was finished, and made changes before moving forward. Both have been huge mistakes that I believe drew out the editing process longer than it should have been.

    I also made the mistake of posting stuff to the beta group the minute I finished, then realizing after the first feedback was posted that I could not look at it until I had some time and distance. So I feel a bit guilty about that, but I need to stick to my guns.

    Taking a break and working on something else is a great idea. I’ve let myself play around with a “fun” project that is nothing like my recently-finished piece. I’ve also been refueling my creativity by reading and beta-reading.

  • I have to print it out and read aloud. Ofttimes, I’ll read it aloud to my wife first and then again, pen in hand, underlining or making little notes as we find things that don’t sound right or don’t work. It really does change how you read it or think about it when you’ve got it printed out in front of you. I think I printed the MS out 4 or 5 times and edited it a good dozen times just with our own thoughts and then another half dozen or so from beta reader feedback, but eventually I felt like if I kept picking at it I’d never send it out and it needed a more professional eye on it. That goes back to trusting the work. If I hadn’t just trusted that it was ready to send out, or at least good enough, I’d probably still be revising it a couple years from now and it’d never see the light of day. I’ve got that artist eye that’s never completely satisfied with something I’ve done, but eventually you have to stop and say, enough is enough. Because you’re right, you will kill a piece by overworking it.

    I’m bad at setting a work aside. Sometimes, I can’t stop thinking about it even if it’s put away. Or if I do hit upon something that pulls me away I can get so caught up in the next thing that I’ll drop what I was doing originally. Though I haven’t tried writing short stories in that space. That might work. Hmm…

    And yeah, I have a file like that too that I have saved in three places, and I’m really considering finding a fourth. I have every incarnation of the MS saved back to the original, plus cut scenes, alternate scenes, etc. I think with all the back burner stuff, synopses, first chapters, short stories, revisions, and such, my writing folder’s 74 megs or so, which is kinda hefty for nothing but Word documents. By comparison, the latest draft of Rogue 5 is 1 MB, but the folder for it is almost 14 MB. 😉

  • Perfect timing as I finished a first draft last night and now am in the “let it stew for a couple weeks before I go back through and work on it” phase. Good tips, David. Thanks.

  • From the “there is no one right way” dept — I want to remind our readers that David has the remarkable ability to write very clean first drafts. That is hardly the case with myself. I try (and am pushing myself harder) to write like AJ. That is, write fast. Get the idea out of my head and on paper before it fizzles. If you write this way, then your revision process will be significantly more detailed. All of what David suggests in terms of distancing is crucial and spot on. Where we differ is that while David won’t do any major alterations until he beta tests, but I will frequently gut a section or add in a huge portion of new text for a variety of reasons (pacing or character development are the most common) before I send the MS out to my betas. Because when you write fast, you usually don’t write clean copy — it needs a lot of revision work.

    Now, if only we could meld the two approaches — write really fast, really clean copy! That would be wonderful.

  • Great advice, David. I done all of the things you mentioned above, but had never thought of combining them. Each was an independent step. But I can see how combining them would both increase the effectiveness and the efficiency of the operation.

    Something I stumbled upon by accident a few years ago, which may or may not work for some people, was changing the names of several characters. I was working on a manuscript and decided that several of the names where too vanilla-whitebread, so I did a global search-and-replace, and lo and behold, when I went back and re-read the MS with two or three new names, it was like reading a whole new novel. Suddenly I had these new people running around in the pages of my book. I haven’t tried this yet, but it occurs to me that at some point I may try that with my current WIP: just save a copy of the existing version, rename the file and then rename several of the characters. After reading it that way, I can implement changes back on the original MS with the character’s proper names. When I get to that stage, I’ll let you all know how it turns out. It certainly helped the first time, when I did it by accident.

  • This is a very useful post, David. Editing is so hard for me; in school I always hated it. I think, down deep, it felt like I was admitting that my work wasn’t good enough as it was. It’s like retaking a test because you failed it the first time. Getting some distance definitely helps. I also really like these particular ideas for distance. Time being the biggest one, and most obvious, but these other things, while they sound simple, can be very effective. Thanks!

    John- I just finished Slave Princess last night and shelved it to sit for a year or so.
    Laura- speaking of posting to Beta Readers, I practically threw the work at my wife as I typed the last words. I agree with you: it’s not a very good idea!

  • I also print ms and read aloud to myself, for much the same reasons stated above. This is great for hearing the flow of the story.

    After reading out loud to myself, I’ve found that a text to voice program helps catch missing words because the program will not insert them. It also spells out unknown words, which is great for indicating how many unique words I’ve made up and inserted into my ms. The best part is that the text to voice doesn’t get distracted as easily as I, and can chew through a lot of pages, unless I hit pause.

    I’ve heard reading the story one line or paragraph at time from back to front is a great way to keep yourself from getting to emotionally wrapped up in the prose, though, I’ve never tried this myself.

    “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King has some other great tips for revising.


  • Deb S

    One thing I like to do is temporarily change the line spacing and/or font size. Seeing the words in different proximity and places on the page helps me look at a familiar ms with fresh eyes.

  • I cannot use the “slug through till I’m done method”. I tried it and failed miserably. I have to make some edits as I go or else the pile of edits trailing me gets to be overwhelming on my mind. Nit-pik edits I don’t worry about, but if the edit is a “high level” edit, then I must stop and fix it.

    Being a largely a pantser writer, I have to listen to the story as it unfolds on the paper. If I ignore the things it tells me for too long, the story begins screaming at me. If I ignore it further, then… let’s just say bad things happen. 🙂 I have to be plugged into my story on a close level as I write in order to listen to it when it speaks to me.

    Deb S>>> Great idea! I ilke that.

  • David, I think you discovered the one thing we all agree upon (which is magical!) — the need for distance from a book before we start our rewrite. When we can get that distance, the rewrites are so much cleaner and easier.

    I used to use sticky notes stuck to the desk, a TV tray, and the pages for changes as I did that first major revision. It made for a pretty desk. 🙂 Now it’s just dusty, but that’s another topic.

    In the last 2 books, I tried to do it electronically, tracking the needed (possible) changes, highlighting them in different colors, directly into the mscpt., making comments that appear electronically in the margins. It’s harder for hubby to print them out for me to read aloud, but it’s easier than keeping different files, and so it seems to work. It also mimics the way my editor works now — totaly electronic.

    But I admit that I liked the physical hold-in-my-hand notes, so I don’t know how long I’ll use the electronic method for my personal rewrites.

  • Lots to respond to already – y’all are commenting early today….

    Laura, the way I figured out what I do and don’t want to do when revising is by doing things that didn’t work early on. You’ll get the hang of this. It’s not easy the first few times through. That said, turning to something fun and different is a great way to increase that distance. Plus, it’s fun and different, which are their own rewards. Enjoy!

    Daniel, printing and reading aloud are both crucial for me. Although I have to admit that recently, since I got my iMac, I’ve sometimes allowed my computer to read work to me while I follow along on the screen. That works well, too, although the computer voice is a little annoying.

    Thanks, John. Glad the timing was good. My timing so often isn’t . . .

    Stuart, thanks for the corrective — you’re right. This post is a probably a bit too geared to my own process and not enough to those who don’t follow my idiosyncrasies. For many, I would think that wholesale changes of the sort you mention are crucial before the ms. goes to Betas. I should have taken that into account.

    Thanks, Edmund. But wow, changing character names. That would be really hard for me — almost like waiting until my kids turned ten and then changing their names. Not sure I could do it. On the other hand, for people who COULD do it, I can see where it would be very helpful in creating that distance we all want and need.

    David, thanks for the comment. I think I must have had that feeling as well, though I hadn’t thought to articulate it the way you have here. I didn’t like revisions early on, and I believe you’re right — I saw them as an admission of failure. I wasn’t improving the manuscript so much as “fixing the bad parts,” which, of course, is NOT a good way to look at this. Thanks for the insight.

    Thanks, NGD. As I mention in my response to Daniel, I’ve been using the text to voice program, too, and also find it helpful. I’ve heard that about reading backwards, too, but I have to admit that I WANT the emotion when I revise. I’m not just looking for typos and the like; I’m testing the story. Typos and missing words are the least of my concerns when revising. I’m more concerned with plot, character, etc. So I want the context. Later, when I proof, I might try reading backwards, but until then, I want to experience the book as my readers will.

    Deb S., that’s an interesting idea. Another way to create that distance from the writing experience. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Mark, as Stuart says, there is no right way, even on this revision stuff. That said, I will take the liberty of speaking for A.J., and say that this may be another argument for giving up your pantser ways and doing a bit more planning ahead of time. It will streamline your process, not only for writing but also for self-editing. Just something to think about.

    Faith, I have to admit that I don’t like track changes, although when my editor (the current one or the next one) starts using it, I suppose I’ll have to adjust. But yes, I think that search for distance is the one constant for all of us who self-edit.

  • Mikaela

    When I add at least 5k to the drafts. Normally, the bulk of that is in the second draft. But some stories are different. Like Sherezade. In total, I have added 16 K to Sherezade. The finished first draft was 20 k. 28 k when I finished the second draft. 36 k when I finished the third draft. I have a feeling that I’ll add another 5 k during the fourth draft. *eyes the print outs* I’ll try the reading aloud thing when I work on the fourth draft. 🙂

  • I, too, like Beta-feedback as early as possible in the writing/editing process. I had a discussion with a writer-friend who’s gone through months of revisions and rewrites polishing the manuscript before sending to beta readers, and I mentioned I’m much more apt to send a first-draft (with a grammar/spelling pass only) to beta-readers… in part because their feedback will be most helpful in figuring out what, exactly, are the problems with the manuscript. As you mentioned, I may have an idea or two what’s wrong with the manuscript, but beta-readers’ feedback can be enlightening. (It can also be a dud, where they provide irrelevant feedback, but even that’s helpful, because it tells you that you aren’t getting your point across very well since their comments seemed to miss the point… which forces you to step back and think about what you’re trying to accomplish with the story.)

    I also like getting distance. I find that if I go back to story after a month or more, I start to identify flaws in the writing, story, etc. In that sense, it’s probably best to wait to send stuff off to beta readers for at least a few weeks, in case one of the betas is a speed-reader and turns comments around in a few days… because in that case you’ve got to resist the temptation to read the comments until your cool-down period is over.

    One problem I’ve had, though, is in finding beta readers. I think that would be easier now that I’ve developed a better network of writer-friends… but when I was getting my last piece revised, I didn’t have many friends who picked up my call for betas.

  • henderson


    Really great post and very informative responses. I have a question of when to revise. I have been writing a series of stories since 2009 NaNoWrimo. I am on the fifth story of the series. I have not begun the revising or the editing process as of yet. I am of the thinking that I want to complete the complete story that I have in my head as quickly as possible while I have momentum. I am thinking that I will probably have another six stories before I am finished.

    I know I have to revise and edit these connected stories. The concern I have is if I stop to revise and edit, then I would lose all the momentum for completing the whole story. I am still trying to figure out if I am writing an extended arc or a series. Does it make a difference if I am writing an extended series or a series when it comes to editing and revising? I appreciate any suggestions.

  • Mikaela, I often find that something similar happens when I revise. I tend to add more than I cut, although again, as Stuart points out, I tend to write fairly polished manuscripts (because I write somewhat slowly and polish as I go). But I know that some people cut a great deal and add little while revising. Every person’s process is different.

    Stephen, I have had trouble in the past finding Betas, in part because I have been reluctant to impose upon people. I know how valuable my time is, and I was gun-shy about taking up other people’s time. Turns out, people are usually eager to read stuff, particularly if you can make it available as a .pdf that can be read on a Kindle or iPad. I also think that going to writer friends is the best idea, since they know what kind of feedback to give. So I hope that your improved network gives you more Beta options.

    Henderson, thanks for the question. It seems to me from the way you’re describing the project that your stories are all connected in one overarching project. As such, I would suggest (and again, this is just one writer’s opinion) that you treat the project as a single novel. Finish the whole thing before going back to revise. Your instincts in this case — your fear of losing momentum — are probably spot on. On the other hand, if when you say “stories” you mean novel-length projects, then I might offer different advice. Selling 11 novels in a series is almost impossible in this market, so you might want to stop and revise the first three and see if they can be made into one complete story arc that would be marketable. As I say, it all depends on how long your “stories” are. Can you clarify that a bit?

  • henderson


    Thanks. Each of the first four stories is about 90,000 words on average. I am in the middle of writing the fifth story (45,000 words written), and I think it will be about 90,000 words. I, however, do keep notes about changes I need to make when I begin revising and editing.

    At the moment, I am not thinking about querying until I have completed writing the whole story (or extended arc). Completing the overarching project is my first objective. I will, then, revise and edit the first three or four stories before I begin querying.

  • Okay, then I need to revise my first response to your question. A lot of this depends upon what you intend to do with the stories — actually, let’s call them what they are — books when you’re done. If you plan to try the traditional publishing route, you’re going to have some trouble selling an 11 volume cycle. I would suggest seeing if there is a way to turn them into several related-but-complete three book cycles. It might involve reconceiving the story, but as I say, an 11 book cycle is a very, very tough sell right now. Regardless of whether you go the traditional publishing or self-publishing route, I would go ahead and start editing the early volumes. See if there are fundamental issues that need to be addressed in terms of character, worldbuilding, plotting before you go on writing in the series. It may be that you’re creating more work for yourself by not revising those first volumes and sending them to Beta readers. Getting feedback now might clarify things for you in the later books. My two cents.

  • David> Great post. I shudder at the thought of reading my manuscript out loud–mostly ’cause I’m afraid of what I’ll hear–not a good reason not to do it. I think I’ll add that to the list. (And I don’t like the sound of my own voice–I can’t stand to listen to recordings of myself talking. And yes, for the folks at CC, I’m sure they find that unbelievable!)

    I made massive changes before giving my novel to Betas, but they were a product of the “write as fast as you can–don’t go back!” process. In the middle of the book, I realized I had to cut a character, change a bunch of the early plot, etc. So I wrote the notes out, pretended they’d happened and kept on writing. So, when I got to “THE END.” It was hardly that. (And, indeed, I didn’t write the last chapter until after I’d done the revision).

    I wonder if it would help at all to distinguish a bit between “editing” and “revision”? I consider “revision” MASSIVE chages. Changes to the plot arcs, introducing or cutting characters, reworking whole sections, switching pov etc. All the things that make the novel a different novel, really. “Editing” is smaller than that, I think. Not small, not irrelevant, and not copy-editing or proofreading, either, but maybe moving away from the HUGE issues like “who has the knife and when?” or “wait, so-and-so needs to die in chapter 8, not chapter 25” and more toward “the MC’s voice isn’t what I want.” Does that make any sense? Maybe jetlag is still sucking away my brain!

  • I’m currently in the middle of rewri…ahem…revising hell, and I’m finding it a fairly significant task.

    I’m revising the personality and past of a number of characters (My hot, sexy incubus is getting nerded up a bit, as, well, that can be extra hot too).

    I’m doing the standard adjusting of the plot to make things fit together just right (one of my obvious villians is getting folded into the is he, is he not a villain, and his actions are being transferred over to the real baddie). I’m cutting a lot of stuff that simply gets in the way of the flow, and I’m adding new stuff to fix that. All the standard stuff, but probably turned up to eleven.

    I’m finding it quite hard. Frustrating. From what I understand, this is pretty par-for-the-course for a lot of people, so hearing that gives me a bit of comfort.

    I did pass off the revised first chapter to a bunch of talented professional writers, which may be a bit abnormal as far as the pros go. It was immensely helpful. I’ll repeat, immensely helpful.

    I’m very inexperienced in this fiction writing thing, especially for something novel length. I’ve not had much feedback on my basic writing styles, and I didn’t have have much confidence in my world building, character development, dialog and basic writing style.

    I was happy to hear that my work actually drew most of the folk in, had interesting characters, realistic dialog and pretty good development of setting. And I was happy to hear that my basics were pretty good.

    More important, I got feedback on some of my bad habits. Things I should watch for during the rest of my revision process (Ugh, I gotta stop dropping in the occasional jarring switch of case).

    Maybe it is occasionally useful to drop a chapter or so in front of some strong beta readers early in the revision process. Might be good when you’re an inexperienced writer. Or when you’re experienced and making that scary attempt to change your voice or style.

    Anyway, back to the revision blood, sweat, tears and Xanax.

  • Thank you for another great post, David. Your process makes a lot of sense to me.

    When I first started writing my novel, I was writing and editing it scene-by-scene. At some point, I realized I was doing that because I was treating the novel like I do my non-fiction writing, which tends to be assembled from a series of articles. But my story was developing too slowly that way.

    At some point I read the suggestion that one should just get the whole story down, and then go back to revise it. I think it might even have been one of your MW articles that told me that. Wherever I read it, it has made all the difference. What I’ve realized is that my process hasn’t really changed, its just the scope of work that’s changed. Now I’m dealing with novel-length content instead of article-length.

    I do revise a bit along the way, but not much. Each week, I print out the progress I’ve made on my WIP and I hand it to my wife to read. She helps me identify things that didn’t come across the way I expected along with inevitable typos (she’s a former pro copy editor). I fix the minor stuff immediately. Anything that requires inserting new content or changing a scene is marked and waiting for the second draft.

    My plan is to send the second draft to beta readers. The third draft that results from beta feedback goes to a pro editor. The fourth draft will incorporate the editor’s feedback and hopefully become the final draft.

    I think the main reason I decided that “write first, revise later” is the way to go is that I’m finding the story tends to evolve as you write it, even if you are a structure-junkie like I’ve become. It doesn’t make sense to polish elements of the story that you may decide to change or remove later.

  • Emily, I hate the sound of my voice, too, but I find that I don’t so much listen to myself as I do look at the manuscript in a different way — as a script rather than a book, if that makes any sense. I mean, yeah, it’s still my voice, but I’m alone, and, well, who cares. But mostly for me it’s a new way of seeing the words. As to editing vs. revising, I’m not sure I see the distinction you’re making, but it’s one of those things — if it works for you, go for it. For me, the distinction is this: editing is the read-through that allows me to identify the problems, big and small, that I need to address. It is the critical end of the process, if that makes sense. Revising is what I do once I’ve gathered all my notes and ideas from the edit. But, again, that’s me.

    Roxanne, best of luck with the work you’re doing. I can certainly see where having a chance to get a chapter looked at — checking in to ask, in a way, “Hey, am I doing this okay so far?” — would be very helpful. It’s not always possible to do that, and a single chapter, or even a few chapters from a larger project can only tell a reader so much, but yes it can be helpful. I just think it’s important to take that feedback, put it in a file somewhere, and then keep moving forward. My wife read my first three books chapter by chapter, as I wrote them, and it was enormously helpful. At this point though, I write my chapters too quickly to make it helpful (and she has lot of other stuff to do, thank you very much….).

    D.R., thanks for the kind comment. And yes, that last is one primary reason why I can’t edit as I work: the evolution of which you speak. Sometimes I think I know midway through the process where a book is headed and just how it’s going to get there. By the end, though, I often discover that the path taken is different from the one I envisioned, and so the revisions I thought I needed to do when I was writing chapter 10 is different once I’ve finished chapter 25. the other thing, as I’ve said, is just a momentum issue. Finishing a book is hard enough without backtracking all the time. Write the thing, put it away, read it through and see what you’ve got. THEN start the revisions. My approach, anyway.

  • henderson


    Thanks for the revised and very helpful response. You gave me alot to chew on. Another reason I am glad that I follow this site.

  • Razziecat

    There’s so much in this article and the comments that I’m going to have to re-read a couple of times to get all the good stuff out! I have to say that I have a LOT of trouble putting distance between my work and my brain. No matter how much time has passed, I still know what words come next and what I was thinking when I wrote them. I’m learning to work around that, but it’s tough. I’ve never tried reading my work aloud, so that’s one suggestion I might take. My biggest sticking point right now is finishing the work without going back to make major revisions: That’s a trap I need to avoid. Again, great suggestions from everybody.

  • Roger, glad to help. Thanks for your questions and comments.

    Razz, I’m glad that you’ve found the discussion valuable. Reading aloud really does help, and so does having your computer read it to you if you happen to have a text to voice program (most Macs have it standard). And yes, keep moving forward! Best of luck!

  • Thank you, David. I have been digesting all of this advice since I started visiting this site, and now I feel like I can put it to good use. I hope that taking a year and a half to finish rewrites translates to not taking that long next time around.

    The fun/different project has been great so far. I have a feeling that it could provide a nice counterpoint to the other piece.

  • niknicnac

    Great advice! I’ve allowed myself to be sucked into the black-hole of revision before I’m finished too many times to count. As you said, it tends to kill the spark. When I revise the right way, I have to print it out and read through it more than once.
    Off the subject a bit, I’ve noticed that you mention beta-readers, I have seen others as well mention this here and on other sites, and was wondering how you find beta-readers you trust? I don’t want to be paranoid, but I also don’t want to be naive (I’ve had a few bad experiences). I feel sometimes as if I’m the only fish in my pond who enjoys reading. Which leaves me with no one to look at my work, but the idea of allowing a stranger I met on the internet look it over is a bit alarming. Am I worrying too much?

  • Glad to hear that, Laura. And I assure you, this all gets easier (and quicker) with each new project.

    Nik, I do think I’d be wary of sharing my work with someone I didn’t know. That said, though, a Beta reader can be anyone you trust — trust to be honest with you, and also trust not to be cruel with their criticisms. It doesn’t have to be a professional writer or even an avocational writer. Anyone you know who is an avid reader, whose intellect and taste you respect will do very nicely. Trust is the key, and so you’re right to shy away from the idea of a stranger. Hope that helps a bit.

  • niknicnac

    It helps a lot, thank you!