So I’ve been spending the past few years revising a Young Adult novel I first wrote in NaNoWriMo 2005. The story is about a teenage boy and his older sister who discover something beneath their town that—cue ominous movie voice-over—WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES FOREVER.
Yep. Pretty exciting. It’s kind of like The City of Ember meets A Different YA Novel About People Who Suddenly Become Very Wealthy From Something They Find Beneath Their Town That Changes Their Lives Forever.
Anyhoo, I’ve been taking some notes on the revision process. And in an effort to help you avoid some of the approximately 21,329 mistakes I’ve made during my many years in Revisionland, I would like to share a few tips and thoughts.
Have some items to add to this list? Please do!
1. Revising your novel will take longer than you think. How much longer? Here’s a rule of thumb that I’ve found works pretty well for me. Step 1: Guesstimate how many months of work you think you have left on the manuscript. Step 2: Multiply that by five, and tack on an epoch, or one of the shorter eons. That’s about how long it will take. Minimum.
2. With this in mind, don’t beat yourself up or get discouraged if you find yourself still working on a book years after you’d hoped to get it wrapped up. Novels are magnificent creatures, and they take time to get right. As long as you’re still working on it, you’re doing great. Enjoy the process! You’ll get there.
3. That said, if you can take some time and do nothing but write, the revision process will accelerate greatly. Even a long weekend devoted entirely to revising can do amazing things.
4. Do not spend a single second making your prose sing until you’re absolutely, positively sure that you have your story locked down. This is the single most important bit of advice I have, and I ignore it all the time and have wasted years of my revising life because of it. The impulse to snappy-up dialogue and make sentences eloquent is almost irresistible at every point in the revision process. The sadness comes when we spend a year transforming our first three chapters into Pulitzer-worthy gems, only to realize that none of those chapters will actually end up in our novels because they don’t work with the new ending.
5. No matter how good you are, you will get lost from time to time. Revising a novel can sometimes feel like you’re stumbling through an overgrown forest of ideas and words, menaced by angry gnomes, hacking away at the brambly underbrush and wandering in circles, trying to find a way forward that just isn’t there.
6. When you’re feeling lost, know that way forward is always close at hand, and it is often hilariously obvious to everyone but you. Someone with a fresh perspective can often solve book problems in minutes that you’ve been wrestling with for months. Reach out.
7. Your book is better than you think it is. And it’s constantly getting better. It’s hard for you to see that progress because you’re so close to it. The progress is there, I promise. Have faith.
8. Above all else, keep going. You’re not wasting your time—you’re doing important work. The world needs your book, my friend. Go get it finished.