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  • Writer's pictureYessica Jain

Revising Your Novel’s First Draft

A week after the end of NaNoWriMo, you may have a 50,000-word novel lying around. What next? While revising and editing may seem overwhelming, it is an essential part of the writing process. Whether or not you plan on publishing the book you just wrote, revising it can help you notice flaws with your plot and character development, and noticing these flaws makes you a better writer and improves your future works.

Of course, writing a first draft is an accomplishment of its own, so you should definitely congratulate yourself on getting this far.

Take a break

It’s really easy to feel the need to go right back to the first word of your book and start revising, but this will benefit neither your novel nor your own mental health.

Writing a first draft is exhausting and it’s important that you step away from your work for some time to avoid burnout. This does not necessarily mean stepping away from writing altogether. You could work on other projects, such as short stories or maybe even your next book.

Or, if you do feel like you need a break from writing, spend some time reading books and watching movies. As I’ve said time and time again, consuming different forms of media makes you a better writer. It gives you inspiration for your stories and opens your imagination to new worlds.

Once you take a break, you can come back to your writing with fresh eyes. You will be better suited to notice the problems with your draft and fix them.

Reverse Outline

When you were writing your first draft, you were creating the story as you went along. You probably wrote many scenes without knowing what would happen on the next page. This is bound to have created plot holes (don’t worry; it’s normal!), and it can be hard to identify where these holes are by just reading your draft.

The best way to figure out where the flaws may be is to summarize what you wrote. Once you identify your main plot lines and character arcs, think about the questions you have and the inconsistencies you see and fix these in your outline. Keep track of these changes, so you can apply them to your story.

Even if you’re not typically an outliner, reverse outlining is incredibly helpful. It may also come more naturally than outlining a story you have not yet written because you already know what you need to outline.

For more tips on reverse outlining, see my previous post.

Rewrite (don’t revise)

Even if you don’t have to make major plot changes, rewriting is especially helpful with working on your writing style. When you were writing your story for the first time, you may have had to jump around or take a break in the middle of the scene, creating issues with the flow of the actual writing. The extent to which you need to rewrite your story really depends on your writing style.

If your story’s chronology needs work or you’re making a major plot change (adding/eliminating a character, changing the setting, etc.), you may need to completely step away from your first draft and start anew. Although this may seem like a massive feat, it is likely to be much easier than you expect. You will be able to develop your story with the experience of the first draft but without its restrictions.

On the other hand, if you want to keep your overall plot while fixing the writing style, you may want to stay closer to your original draft. I suggest re-reading your work in pieces. For instance, after you read the first chapter, rewrite it. The key is to remember only the main events of each chapter without focusing on quotes or specific lines of dialogue.

For both of these rewriting methods, you can always go back to your original work once you finish the entire novel and check to see if you left anything out of the rewrite (such as dialogue exchanges or pretty quotes).

Revising a completed draft may seem impossible, but if you take a deep breath and create a plan of action, it’s very doable. And you will be a better writer for having gone through the process. With that, I wish you luck on your revising journey!

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