How to Revise a Novel


Read through a bit at a time and make changes.

Repeat several times until moderately satsified (let’s face it we are never 100% satisfied)

Dublin dawn

Image by Steve-h via Flickr

Okay so it’s not that simple, there is far more to think about grammar, voice, plot, character and much more, but that’s the crux of it. I spent ages trying to work out how to revise my first big novel. I thought it was near impossible at one point to get everything done. I tried all the usual things – breaking it up into parts, reading advice on editing etc. All of it just frustrated me. I soon realised that I wasn’t doing what I used to do when checking stories, just reading it through and amending parts that didn’t seem right. That was it. A lot of it was due to a lack of time, I know people always complain about time but it’s hard to think about things properly when you have a million other things on your mind. I remembered that when I was a kid, I would have just thought about it and believed that anything I didn’t know, I would learn. Somehow I lost that belief.

So if you get stuck in revising your novel or even on where to start, remember the simple version above and do that first. People will often tell you to leave your novel before revising it in order to give yourself time but I found that this didn’t work for me at all. What happened was that I switched off from it and lost touch with it. Normally I would go straight to writing another but I knew that I needed to get on with it now so I wouldn’t let myself. I was wrong to change my writing process but I can be forgiven because I was just trying to work out the best way forward.

So my advice to new writers is keep learning your writing skills but keep it simple when thinking about revision. It’s a big task anyway and needs focus rather than extra complications. Working on it doesn’t have to be clinical. Do it like you would anything else you would submit, be it online or in a letter. Check how it reads, check grammar, spelling, sentence structure and formatting but above all don’t pressure yourself the first time you do it on a large project.

3 thoughts on “How to Revise a Novel

  1. I wish I’d had this advice when I began editing my novel! Thinking about all the things I’d have to fix in the whole project overwhelmed me so much that I didn’t even want to start. And when I did start, I got frustrated so quickly trying to fix everything all at once that I wanted to throw the whole project in the nearest garbage can.

    It took me almost two drafts of hair-pulling before I finally figured it out, and I at last managed to calm down and take editing in stride.

    • I was exactly the same. I tried doing too much and it became overwhelming. As soon as I remembered how I used to check my writing, just by reading it through and amending, I felt much better and got started. I think it’s the fear that hits you when you’re facing a completely unknown process. I knew how to write them but I thought editing was something new. Silly me though, I’ve been doing it everytime I posted something online or typed something up. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I like this advice. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned from working at my day job is to not stress, and I think that should be applied to writing as well.

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