I recently read an article about revisions that said some authors
do 15 drafts and still find things to change after their book is published.
Fifteen drafts? Get a life. At least, that was my initial
But when I consider my writing and revision process, perhaps 15
– as outlandish as that sounds — is realistic.
I read another article
in The Writer magazine, the November/December issue, by Meredith Sue
Willis, who gave a format for seven layers to revising your novel. Ever the
rebel, I read the article and have tweaked it for my own style of writing.
I have found that revising in layers works better for me than tackling
the whole story for the following reasons:
- Revising in layers is a lot less
intimidating than trying to do 15 separate drafts.
- Revising in layers
helps you focus on specific parts of the story instead of keeping the whole
thing in your head.
- Revising in layers points out smaller problems such as
details and story threads, rather than identifying a weak story plot. If you
have a weak story plot, you don’t need to revise; you need to
Layer 1: Start reading at the exact middle of the book through
to the end. Read fast, make notes. Does the story captivate you? Is the middle
weak? Are all the threads connected at the end? Is the end
Layer 2: Start at the beginning, and read quickly, cutting
words, sentences, paragraphs, and scenes that aren’t absolutely necessary to the
story. Read through to the end.
Layer 3: Start at the beginning and read
at a reader’s pace. Do all the best scenes come at the beginning? Does the
middle still slump? Does the crisis get resolved too quickly? Does the tension
Layer 4: Start at the beginning, and use the search
function to identify scenes were non-primary characters are described. Are the
descriptions consistent? Is there too much repetition of their features? Can you
spread out the description so the scene doesn’t read like a driver’s
Layer 5: Start at the beginning, and use the search function to
identify over-used words and phrases. Does one character spend a lot of time
nodding? Chuckling? Pursing their lips? Glancing backward? Either take out those
attributions or change them. Click here for a link to a list of overused
words. This layer will take you through your manuscript many times
searching for the words and phrases, so prepare to spend some time on this
Layer 6: First of all, print out your novel on paper, justify both
margins, single space, double-sided, so your book looks as much like it would if
it were published. There is something gratifying about holding your novel like
this. Three-hole punch it and put it in a binder. Give it a title page,
acknowledgments, dedication, whatever you envision in the printed product. The
start at the beginning and read at a reader’s pace. Make comments and notes at
the scene or chapter breaks. Take a couple of days to do this, just as a reader
would. Let the story sink in.
Layer 7: Take a break from the book for at
least a week. A month is better. Then read through once more. By now, any
changes should be minimal.
You want your book to be the best it can be.
Be willing to invest time in doing that. I think of writing and revising a book
in terms of the difference between dining and eating. Dining is when you take as
long to eat the meal as it took to prepare. Eating is simply filling your
While you won’t want — or need — to spend as much time
revising as you do writing, know that typing “the end” is not the end. It’s just
the beginning of revisions.
And this is good. Because now your story
really can be the best you can make it.