5 Quick & Painless Revision Tips for People Who Hate Revising

Hat trials

Cue the eye rolls and the chorus of “ugh”… I know there are plenty of you out there who hate revision. Writing a first draft feels freeing and exhilarating, but revising is daunting and overwhelming.

If this sounds like you, you’ll hate me for saying this: I LOVE revision. For me, the first draft is the part that’s daunting and overwhelming; it’s through revision that I start to feel confident in the work, in the fact that, if it’s not right, I can make it right.

But it’s true that major revisions—in many cases, major rewrites—can be a scary undertaking. So I’m thinking, baby steps. These tips may not make your characters magically develop depth and motivation, or cover up that giant pothole (I mean…plot hole) that’s been tormenting you…but they’ll help you ease into the rhythm of changing your work for the best. And that’s half the battle.

1. Love that last sentence? Cut it. One of my favorite writing tips came from a workshop I took with Rick Moody. He told us to look at our last sentence—in a paragraph, a scene, or a chapter—and see what happens when you cut it. You’d be surprised how often you find you’ve already said what you needed to say, and that the work is stronger without the excess.

2. Check your sentence structures. Do all your sentences start with a pronoun followed by a verb? Are they all really, really long or really short and punchy? Mix things up and think of it like a song: different rhythms create different emotional responses. A short sentence fragment is bold and powerful; it adds weight and finality. Long, drawn out sentences can feel fluid and dreamy, or emphasize the build up of tension to a climax, depending on how they’re written.

3. Metaphors be with you. I’m mixing up my Star Wars and Spiderman metaphors here (don’t try this at home) but creating beautiful metaphors is a special power…and with great power comes great responsibility. Check your language for repeated, mixed, and simply too many metaphors back to back to back. You’ll find using one great metaphor at just the right moment creates a greater impact than using them to describe things at every turn.

4. Check your word frequencies. Tools like WordCounter create a report of your most frequently used words. Just cut and paste the text of say, your first 3 chapters (I don’t recommend doing it all at once), and it’ll pop out some analytics. Not only is this a helpful tool for line edits, it’s great for making you look at the bigger picture. Say “lucky” came up like 85 times in three chapters. Is there something you’re trying to say here about fate and chance? And might there be a better way to show it?

5. Ask, what’s the point? Every scene and chapter should be accomplishing something. If your character bought a hat at a store, why is this important? Will the hat turn out to be magical? Is it very unlike her to buy a hat, and so this is the first sign we see of her breaking out of her former self? Once you know the point of every scene, make sure it’s all building up to what you want it to.

Do you love revising or do you prefer the first draft phase? How do you ease into the parts of writing you dread?


Author: Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at nataliasylvester.com

12 Replies to “5 Quick & Painless Revision Tips for People Who Hate Revising”

  1. #1: Interesting. I’d never heard this one. I’ll have to give this a try…

    #2: Very good advice, and I like your analogy of music. Would you want to see a concert where every song was in the same key, or at the same tempo, or at the same volume? No, no matter how good each individual song was.

    There isn’t really any part of the process that I dread, but it still amazes me that people can sit down and write an entire draft from beginning to end, or edit an entire book. I think I’d go crazy. Fortunately, I figured out early on that serial writing suits me, so I write a little, edit a little, polish a little, write a little more, edit a little more, etc.

    I talked about that on my blog a while back: http://u-town.com/collins/?p=3964

    1. I love every aspect of writing- whether unencumbered rough draft that begs to unfold before you or perfecting that diamond in the rough for weeks on end. This was a great blog post today Natalia. I had never considered the last line examination for necessity. Thank you for the tip!

    2. That makes sense, to break it up into smaller chunks. Sometimes the enormity of the task of a novel can be overwhelming. I try to just think of it as scene by scene.

  2. I’m a big fan of, What’s the point? That’s the stage I’m at with my revision. I’ve already cut a few scenes. More importantly for this draft, asked this question compelled me to merge some scenes and to move some scenes around. Sometimes there is a point to a scene only it’s in the wrong spot in the book. Great stuff, Natalia!

    1. Omg, I LOVE condensing scenes or characters. It’s such an efficient and exciting way to keep the momentum of the story going while still saying what you need to say (and trimming excess). And I agree that asking “what’s the point” often helps us identify these spots.

  3. First, let me say thank you for these great tips and resources, Natalia! I am in the middle of revisions right now and I’ve printed them out. Second, I am coming over to the Team Revision side, having always been one who prefers and loves the first draft more than anything. NOW I love the stage I’m in and dread and fret about the beginning of the next phase (whether it’s the first draft or the revision). Once I’m in the either one, I am happy as a clam. (Now that’s a weird expression, isn’t it? Who knew clams were happy, haha) So I guess I’m on Team Wrevise 🙂 Great post, Natalia!

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