Revision: Don’t Be Lazy, Be Intentional
By KayLynn Flanders
For twenty-nine years of my life, I was content to be a reader. Writing is too hard, I’d always say. However, I loved words and got a degree in linguistics and editing, and worked as a freelance editor for other people’s stories. So when I say I love revision and editing, I mean it.
I’d been an editor for about seven years when I decided to try and write a book. I’d been in the industry for a while, but I had no idea how to craft a story with a beginning, middle, and end that felt like the books I always checked out from the library. I did my best with my first draft, but it didn’t match the vision I had for it in my head.
But you know what? That’s okay. First drafts don’t have to be perfect. First drafts are for the author to get the story out of his or her head and onto the page. But if you want to get that story to the reader, that’s where revision comes in.
There are different types of edits or revisions your manuscript can go through after you’ve drafted it.
Developmental Edit: Revision of big story elements, including structure, character, pacing, etc.
Line Edit: Revision at a paragraph, sentence, and word level, including word choice, tone, clarity, etc.
Copy Edit: Correction of spelling and grammar errors, as well as any inconsistencies or factually incorrect statements. (So if your character starts with brown eyes, he won’t end with green ones.)
Pass Pages Edit/Proofread: Corrects any errors—in type or design—in the typeset pages of a formatted manuscript intended for print.
After you’ve done the work of drafting, there are a lot of different ways you can approach revising your manuscript. Really, it depends on what works best for you and the way you brain works. However you tackle the revision process, though, you should work from the top down—so start with developmental edits and big-picture issues, and work your way down through line and copy edits. This is to save you time and frustration. If you spend hours perfecting a sentence, and then end up cutting the entire scene it’s in? That hurts. It will take practice to learn to leave the errors and messy sentences alone while you fix the plot, but eventually you’ll start to trust that you’ll come back and fix them.
Also note that you won’t be perfect at doing this from the get-go. Revising is a skill to be learned just like drafting a whole story. It takes time to learn how to trust your gut when something feels off, and patience to stick with something until you feel like it’s right. It will take time to find a process that works for you, one you’ll continue to fine tune for years. But that’s awesome. You’re finding a way to make the stories in your head more accessible to readers, and that’s worth the work.
Even knowing this, the revision process can feel so overwhelming. You’ve just finished a draft (maybe your first, maybe your fifth), and you’re tired. Physically, emotionally, creatively. If the thought of going back through everything and making changes is the last thing you want to do, listen to that feeling! If you try to go into a revision like this, you’ll ignore that gut reader reaction in you that’s telling you something’s off.
So my first tip is: Take a break after drafting. For how long? Until you feel excited about diving in again. Do things that fill your creative well instead—read books, watch shows, travel, exercise, whatever it is that makes you remember why you love telling stories.
My second tip: Make a plan. When you’re ripping apart a manuscript, everything gets tangled really fast. I recommend having a goal for your revision, whether that’s tackling a few big problems, or doing a line edit and nailing the tone in every chapter. Keep in mind why you wrote the story in the first place, what your hopes and dreams for it are, why it’s important to you. Remembering this will help you stay in line with your original goals when you wrote it, and help the true story shine through.
My third tip: Get outside eyes. When you’ve done so many revisions you can’t tell if what you’re doing is making the story better or just different, it might be time to ask a friend or family member to read it and give feedback. My motto is: all feedback is useful. Not necessarily in the way the person giving the feedback may intend, though, and definitely not in the sense that you have to take everyone’s advice on how to change your story.
What I mean is, usually if a reader trips up somewhere, it means my story isn’t landing for them the way it is in my mind. So then I can evaluate: do I need to change something? What do I need to change? How do I need to change it so my vision of this story is communicated to the reader in an intentional way?
I could talk forever about revision, but I’ll leave with three mantras you can remember as you revise:
1. Don’t be lazy. If something needs to be fixed, fix it.
2. Be intentional. Craft an experience for your reader, not just a story.
3. Cut the boring; keep the fun. If you’re having a hard time with a scene because it’s the filler until you get to the cool parts, your reader will be bored too. Find a way to make every scene interesting, or find a way to cut it.
Go write something awesome!
KayLynn Flanders has a degree in English Language and a minor in editing, and has been a freelance editor and book designer for twelve years. Her debut novel, Shielded, was published by Delacorte Press, with a sequel forthcoming. When she’s not writing, she spends her time playing volleyball, reading, and traveling. KayLynn lives in Utah with her family, and thinks there’s nothing better than a spur-of-the-moment road trip. Learn more at kaylynnflanders.com.