Revising a manuscript is much harder than writing it in the first place. Here are five things I’ve learned while revising The Girl From Oto.
1. Revising means rewriting. You need to treat your rewritten sections like first drafts. Rewrite them, then go away for a while. When you come back to them, you’ll find much to change. This can get frustrating but it must be done. Otherwise the quality of your rewritten sections will be weak.
2. Identify your style and stick with it. Read your favorite authors to get an understanding of style. I love All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I spent a lot of time analyzing his writing to figure out why I love it. He tends to write two or three lyrical descriptive sentences to set up a scene, and he staggers the rhythm and length of these sentences, adding to the musical quality of his writing. I did a close reading of my manuscript to figure out where my writing was strongest. I am still in the process of applying that high stylistic standard to every page. This is painstaking work but I believe it will be worth it.
3. Be ruthless about lazy writing, excess, and clichés. We all do it. We tell instead of show, we use the same beats (“her eyes narrowed”) and dialogue tags (“she murmured”) again and again. We use too many words. Weed this stuff out. My drafts have swelled as high as 200,000 words. The manuscript (which includes two narratives, one historical and one contemporary) is now about 130,000 words, and there’s still more to cut. A good resource to help you do this is Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.
4. Be consistent. Are some of your scenes 99% dialogue, others 99% exposition? Are some 3,000 words long, others 300 words long? Was this intentional? How about your tone, your pace, your rhythm—read your manuscript with an eye for consistency through the lens of each of these areas. I am employing some of the The Story Grid strategies used by editor Shawn Coyne to help with this. His Story Grid podcast is great too.
5. Remind yourself why you’re doing this. I took the photo above in the Pyrenees mountains of Aragon, Spain, the place that ignited the early ideas for my novel. I love my story and my characters. I love creating their world and imagining life in the Pyrenees of medieval times. That’s why I’m doing this. I remind myself of these things when I get frustrated, overwhelmed, and confused by the enormous task of revising a novel.