Monday, 26 March 2012

How to be a Proper Writer - Do Revisions

(The Splurge Method - Part 2)

You now have a whole first draft. 

It is important to sing with
your duck in the shower.
Most people who set out to write a novel never get to this point and so you should take time to congratulate yourself and bask in the warm glow of achievement. This might also be a good time to have that shower and brush your teeth. 

When you are ready to return to your manuscript you do so with the knowledge that you are a proper writer. Proper writers do revisions; over and over and over again. They start big - fixing the story first - and get smaller, moving on to scenes and finally sentences. You can't fix everything in one rewrite, so it's pointless to try.

Next, take your manuscript, read through it and write a chapter by chapter breakdown of the action, plot points and character idiosyncrasies; all the dynamics of the book in fact. And as you lurch from chapter to chapter you will realise that you are both a) a genius and b) totally inadequate. 

You will be surprised and amazed at how your mind works, how your ideas flowed while splurging and how one thought led to another.

At the same time you will be appalled at how often you
  • Repeated yourself
  • Did not explain something
  • Told your story in the wrong order
  • Allowed yourself to write in on too many sub-plots
  • Lost the ability to spell
  • Could not coherent string a together sentence
DO NOT be tempted to tamper with the story before you have finished this chapter by chapter breakdown or else you'll end up in an awful mess and lose all coherent trains of thought. If you do have pertinent questions to ask yourself or new ideas to write in, make a note of them in the margin or somewhere, BUT STICK TO THE PROCESS.

And if you do, the reward is space; that's space as in distance, which is so valuable when you need to be objective. When you have space you have the ability to view your story as a whole, rather than a collection of chapters. You will understand its strengths, weaknesses, plot, character, motivations, timing, continuity, etc with some level of detachment. You will get to grips with heart of the story, and really understand its premise, meaning and aims.

Put simply, you will have a better picture of what you have created and what you need to do next. Only then should you set about rearranging and reorganising your manuscript for the first of many rewrites.


  1. An interesting post, Wendy. I recently sent the first 20% of my work in progress to my agent to read. I thought I had done quite a good first draft and she pointed out areas where my protagonist's character could be greatly improved. I would never have spotted that, so often although distance is useful, the best thing is finding someone savvy to read and crit your work. Then hide in a corner and cry at how rubbish it is. Then change it... We must be masochists.

    1. I think you're really brave to send an 'unfinished' extract to your agent. My early drafts are so rough I would be embarrassed to share them with anyone! But yes, critiques are another essential way to get an objective POV and give you some distance.
      My next blog post is about giving and receiving feedback coincidentally...

  2. Ah Wendy, if only you had written this twenty years ago and if only I had read it then; so much wasted paper in between!
    I have made all these mistakes. Thanks, I'll be checking back on this post when I've finished my next first draught!

    1. If only I'd have known it myself. It's been trial and error and a lot (a huge amount actually) of learning from mistakes, but this seems to work for me so I'll stick with it for now.

  3. I totally agree with your process for editing and revisions. I like to start big (large-scale problems) and work down to polishing and line-editing (small-scale) last. It is funny how many problems you can find with your own writing when you go back --i.e. -could not string a coherent sentence together. Happens to me all the time! :)

    Good luck on your final revisions!


    1. Final revisions? Oh I dream of final revisions... Thanks for commenting :))

  4. Thanks for the post Wendy, many great tips...

    I am now on the final path of my story, chapter 16 of 20, then its the hard work...My blog is

    Keep in touch....

    1. Hi David, Good luck with your story. I've had a quick peek and it's fab. Your reviews are great. You're on the home stretch now... go for it. :))


Thanks for commenting.