For many writers, the revision stage is their favorite part of the writing process. It gives them a chance to look at their work in a new way, they can fix scenes that they were unhappy with, proofread and fix typos, and change and rewrite as many times as they’d like in order to make the story the best it can be.
For others, like myself, the revision process is a nightmare.
Where do you begin? How can you start to make this better? What do you fix first — the characters or the scenes or the grammar? As you begin to revise your story, make sure you not only have an organized approach to revising (timing, taking notes, highlighting/tabbing, etc.), but also a list of elements that you’ll revise on your own before letting someone else read your work (plot, prose, characters, dialogue, etc.). You don’t have to cover every aspect of fiction writing, but it’s not uncommon to rewrite your project four or five times on your own.
Set a schedule
First and foremost, take a step back from your story after you finish. After leaving it alone for a few weeks or even a month, you’ll be ready to read with a fresh set of eyes.
Once you’re ready to pick up your story again, try aiming for a certain number of words or chapter count to revise each day — similar to motivating yourself to write by setting word count goals. If you aim to revise one chapter per day, it’ll feel less overwhelming than trying to revise the whole project at once.
If you’re writing a short piece, opt for word count goals. Try to edit 500 words in an hour or two, take a break, then edit another 500 words, for instance.
Keep track of what you know
For larger projects, keep a list of the main ideas or important plot information after each chapter that you revise. When you revise the next chapter, read through your notes to refamiliarize yourself with where you’re at in the story. This will also help you remember what your readers know at certain points in the story as well.
What to look for when you self-edit
Pay attention to any scenes that feel flat or scenes that don’t move the story forward. Make sure every scene makes you want to turn the page. If a scene doesn’t feel right, you might be starting in the wrong place. Avoid frontloading with exposition, backstory, or spending too much time inside a character’s head. Keep things moving by balancing narrative and action with respect to the genre you’re writing in. This will also help you pace out your scenes so that each chapter flows logically into the next.
Revisit your characters and their motivations. What are their goals and why? What are the stakes? Is the protagonist pivotal in the climax? Is the antagonist playing an active part?
It can also be difficult to find areas to fix simply because as the writer, you’ve read this story a hundred times already. This is why it’s a great idea to find beta readers — people who read your story early and offer critical advice for improvement before the manuscript is sent out for editing (again). TYWI has a wonderful group of beta readers who can look over your story and provide feedback from a reader’s perspective on what’s working and what’s not.
While every writer has their own method to reorganize and reassess their messy first drafts, there are a few common ways to edit that many writers find helpful.
Different Types of Editing
Finally, here are a few things to look out for or keep in mind if you’re planning to take your submission farther and query a literary agent. These questions come from Angie Hodapp, Director of Literary Development, at Nelson Literary Agency, during a Lighthouse Writers workshop. Use these questions to put yourself in the mind of your reader so that you can find specific moments to revise.
When someone is reading the opening pages…
Don’t be afraid to tear your story to pieces; editing and revising is strenuous, but rewarding. You not only get to see your draft transform into something completely new and beautiful, but you also get to learn and know your story at its most vulnerable. A first draft is amazing because it exists, and you’ve accomplished something that most people can only dream of doing. So take the time to nurture and care for your draft during its revision — the story (and your readers) will be forever grateful.
is an avid reader and passionate writer from Colorado. She studied creative writing and journalism at the University of Denver and graduated in 2021. She has worked with the Denver Quarterly literary journal, written for the DU Clarion, and currently works with Spring Cedars Publishing.