Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Edit, No...Rewrite, Nah...Revisions. Yeah, That's It. Handling Revisions.

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Everyone has the own process for handling critique feedback and diving into revisions, but when faced with pages of information and comments, sometimes it's hard to know where to start.

First thing I do is read them. Sounds crazy, right? But I read them with no expectations. I'm not trying to see if anyone liked the book, I just want to know what they thought. I make no judgments here. If anything pops up that seems totally whacked (and there's always something unexpected), I just let it slide on by.

Once I've read them all, I ask my critiquers any questions I might have. Sometimes I'll need clarification on a point, or someone will say something that really hits me and I'll want them to elaborate. After that, I let the critique sit for a few days.

The sitting is an important aspect. We all have great hopes and dreams for our work, so any negative comment can give us a knee-jerk reaction and the need to justify why we did something. It's not uncommon to think, "They're just missing the point" at this stage. (For the record, they usually aren't)

After a few days, I go back and read the crits again, this time with an eye for what the problems are. I open a new file and take notes on things I agree with and plan to fix. I note any suggestions made I think would work.

Then I look at the comments that seemed to miss the point. I try to understand why the comment was made. Was the problem really what the critiquer said it was, or did this moment not work because I failed somewhere else, and this is when that error becomes clear? This is the hardest type of comment to deal with, because sometimes it's a legitimate comment, and sometimes it really is the critiquer missing the point.

How can you tell the difference?
  • If more than one person says the same thing, chances are it's a problem.
  • If you can see what the person is talking about, but disagree, chances are it's a problem, but not the problem they think it is. Perhaps it wasn't set it up correctly and they expected something else by the time they got to this moment.
  • If you can't figure out what they're talking about, and asking yields no further understanding, it could just them.
  • If you understand what they're talking about, but it's something that is addressed in the story, go back and tweak it a little to make sure it's clear. It might be just them, but it's possible others could benefit from a little more clarification there.
Next comes figuring out what needs to be fixed, using the notes I took on the larger issues. I copy those notes in the story file itself (in a different color of course), elaborating where needed. Often, I add a summary paragraph or two at the start of the chapter of the changes that need to occur. I adjust my outline and chapter summaries. I cut out the old stuff I know is getting deleted (such as a chapter or scene). I basically prep for the heavy duty rewriting.

Once all the big changes are marked down and I know the macro level issues, I move on to the line edits. I go critique by critique and fix anything that's easy (a typo, an odd word choice, an extra clause). All the other comments I cut and paste into my main document in the same places the critiquer made them.

Finally, I start reading on page one, making the changes as I come to them. If I encounter anything that requires more thought or planning, I highlight it in yellow and move on. My goal here is to make as many edits as I can without getting bogged down. After the easy stuff is done, I can focus on the harder rewrites and make sure they fit any new story lines.

After all that is finished, I let the manuscript sit for at least a week or two (a month is great if you can do it). Then I go back and read it yet again. I fix anything that pops out at me. I keep doing this until the manuscript is clean. I consider it clean when I tweak a word here and there as I read, but nothing more.

If the changes were major, I'll ask for more critiques and go through the whole process again. It takes work, but I've found it to be an effective way to revise.

How do you incorporate critique feedback? What's your revisions plan? 

Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound


  1. Those are great points, thank you!
    One question, though. How do you do when you really don't agree with what is asked to revise?


  2. Sounds similar to how I do it too! :) e

  3. All good advice, and I do this with each chapter as it comes from my CPs, so by the time I get to the end of the book and deal with the entire manuscript, much of this is already done.

    Right now, I'm dealing with edits from my "real" editor, and I like to think that she gets a very clean manuscript because I've fixed it along the way.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  4. I use similar steps.

    I want to emphasize the importance of resisting the knee-jerk-reaction. As a writer, reacting too quickly can prevent you from really understanding the constructive criticism offered. As a critter, you become less-interested in critting for that person because you don't feel you can provide honest feedback.

  5. Yep, that sounds pretty familiar. Those parts where the critiquer doesn't seem to have "got" what's there can be very tricky - and illustrate the need for multiple readers. But, you are right, it's worth considering just one misunderstanding: when the story is out there in the world 1% of a million readers (dreams are free) getting confused is significant.
    To help prevent my defensive walls going up, I try to go into critique requests knwoing exactly what I am asking for: help to make the story the best it can be, not glowing praise (unless it's already been critiqued to that point).
    Often, the comments I receive just clarify doubts I already had. But, getting those outsider comments can be what I need to get the juices flowing to help me figure out the HOW to fix ...

  6. I absolutely love hearing how other writers revise! Thanks for the detailed notes. I might just steal some :D

  7. I definitely don't revise this way, but perhaps I should! Thank you for sharing. We all know that revision is key, but I didn't know exactly how different writers approach it. Great post. Has anyone used Scrivener? I've been wondering if it would save time.

  8. Yeah, I absolutely don't do anything after that first read-through because I know I'm in justify mode. :-) But after I think about the notes, I'm always surprised at how much I end up revising. And I'm always surprised that when I think I'm done--I'm not done. ;-)

  9. This sounds like exactly how I handle my critiques except that for what I'm doing, I go through them on a chapter-by-chapter basis, so the work isn't so intensive. I've definitely gotten past the point of getting emotional about the notes. I just want to write (and edit!) a great story. :)

  10. I take the critiques side-by-side with
    the manuscript and work on corrections
    in the new draft. It seems to work for

  11. Anna, if you don't agree with it, don't do it. It's easy to feel we HAVE to address everything we see in a crit, but if it we honestly don't feel it'll make the story better, we shouldn't make it.

    Elizabeth, great minds think alike ;)

    Terry, I've got some WIP crit partners for that as well. It's really helpful. Good luck on your edits!

    Angela, truer words never spoken :)

    Debbie, your last para fits me perfectly. Anything I was doubting is always pointed out in the crits. Attitude does make a difference. Sounds like you have a good one :)

    Julie, steal away :)

    Glacier, I hear great things about Scrivener (and I really need to get a guest author on here who uses it). And just because I revise this way doesn't mean it's the "right" way. If what you do works for you, stick with it. But if you're not happy with your current process, this is one possible option.

    Cathy, don't know abut you but sometimes I feel I'm never done :) I still want to edit Shifter, lol.

    Jamie, sounds like a good plan! I edit myself chapter by chapter. The smaller chunks do make it easier.

    Traci, sounds good :)

  12. Editing and rewriting seems like such a simple thing, but most of us know that when you get down to it, it isn't. I like this piece, because I always find myself getting bogged down in the greater details, even when writing, rather than just moving on and coming back to it later. This post is sort of a kick in the butt that say to me, "It's okay. Keep on keeping on."

  13. Khaalidah, it's definitely okay to keep going, but that can be hard for some folks (I have several writer friends who like to get things perfect before they move on). I don't know if you've done NaNaWriMo yet, but one "perfectionist" writer friend of mine used that to force herself to just write and not stop to edit. It helped her, so it might be something to try.

  14. Something which really helps with the revision process is being able to have an dialogue with the reader. One of the things to come out of a reading just last night was that the captain of a starship should know their way around their own ship. That being said, it doesn't hurt to have directions fresh in your mind when it's dark.

    I was asked 'really, it's dark?' and I said of course, the power's out! It's pretty obvious. So one thing to watch when having someone read your work is not to make an edit for every little issue. Sometimes you've done your job right and the reader simply missed something.

    But hmm, is it fair to assume that a starship captain knows their way around the ship like the back of their hand?

    Well, suppose you don't know the way to every single desk in an office building. You still know generally where things are, right? Which departments are on which floor? Well, there you go then. Navigating the maze of access tubes doesn't mean you need to know exactly where you are to get out of a particular section of the ship. :)

  15. I agree about the sitting for critiques. Sometimes you get an emotional punch after a critique, and that's not what you want to be approaching your story with. One time I posted online for critique, and I was writing in omni. I had done extensive critiquing on the site and thought I would get something different than a rank beginner would (my mistake).

    I wanted to know if I was generally on the right track and noted that it was in omni because I didn't want people telling me I was head hopping because they didn't understand omni. Instead, merely mentioning it seemed to launch a tirade from something like eight writers. They didn't like omni and became doomsayers. I got comments like, "If you write in omni, you'll never get published," and "I'm sure you know you're story, but here's how you would write in third" -- like I was stupid or something (and after I had noted I tried the other viewpoints, and it hadn't worked). The worst part was having to politely thank everyone, even though not one of them had actually critiqued my writing. They'd simply gone after me because I'd mentioned it was in omni -- and this from the same writers who say "Do whatever works." I had to take six weeks off from writing the story because the comments had been that nasty, and I didn't want to make an emotional decision. Then I went back and looked at it, and really, I still don't understand the level of animosity they had. Not every critique is right either, and you always have to go with your instincts for the story.