Revising Your MS in 10 Steps

Posted on May 23, 2012


Guest post by Natascha Jaffa*

Congratulations! You’ve finished the first draft of your work-in-progress (WIP) and now you’re ready to revise. Oh, didn’t anyone mention that?

The revision and editing process is not for the faint of heart. However, in the end, it’s cleansing and glorifying. Using these 10 steps as a guideline to revisions will help strengthen your story for a future agent, editor and reader.

1. Print out your manuscript.

2. Set your manuscript aside for a minimum of two weeks. Go work on another project and let this one stew. The reason you need to do this is to get perspective on your work. It is almost impossible to self-edit. You need to take a step back and take a deep breath to clear your head, which is possibly the most important step throughout this process. With a clear head, you will see things you didn’t before.

3. Read your manuscript. Get a notepad, a separate document opened on your computer, sticky notes or however else you want keep track of ideas and make notes along the way. You are NOT going to make any changes to your manuscript at this time. By approaching your manuscript as a reader and not a writer, you can make sure the story flows, you have enough detail or too much and fix any major holes.

4. Go ahead. Make the changes. Incorporate all of those notes you’ve taken. Maybe you’ve had to replace some scenes, add characters, or get rid of them. Make sure tension, flow, goals, motivations and conflicts are all present. Clean up your dialogue because you don’t want it to sound like the dialogue from Abduction with Taylor Lautner. For a lot of authors, this is the most difficult part: making the story make sense. To get a better handle on this step, you can use “The oh-so-fun revision check list for writing”

5. Justify every scene. Deborah Coonts, author of Wanna Get Lucky?, once told me she knows why every word, sentence, paragraph, page and scene is in her novel. You need to, too. Take a look at each scene in your book. Does it progress the plot forward? What importance does this scene bring to the whole of the novel? Is it developing character? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then neither will a reader and it needs to go.

6. Tighten your writing. A reader does not want to read, “he said/she said” at the end of every piece of dialogue. Cut down on adverbs and sentences more than twenty words. Your story is set. Now, make it sound better. If you’ve said something in twenty words that could be said in ten, cut it down. Agents LOVE “compact writing”.

7. Copyedit. The best piece of advice I’ve ever put into practice was to play fifty-two card pick-up with my MS. No, you’re not going to throw it up in the air and dance beneath them. Although, that would be fun. With this step, mix up every page of your MS. Separate those pages into ten random piles then draw one page at a time and correct those mistakes. Grammar, spelling, typos, sentence structure, etc. With this technique, you’re getting a better perspective because you’re not getting caught up in the story. And because I know from experience, I must add DO NOT TRUST MICROSOFT WORD TO CATCH EVERYTHING. Word does not take context into account.

8. Submit to your critique group or freelance editor. The best way to see if your manuscript is ready for an agent/editor/publisher is to get multiple perspectives on your work. Others will catch what you haven’t. Don’t have one? Start your research in your local area, check out the writing blogs, or stop by The Indie Market’s Facebook Page.

9. Make the changes. Now, you have some, at least what I hope is, great feedback from two or more critique partners or you editor. They’ve helped you to tighten your writing, fix grammar and spelling mistakes, clarify POV and more. Contemplate each suggestion. Does it work for the tone you’re trying to accomplish in a particular scene or chapter? Will it strengthen the plot or character or take away? Make sure the changes you make are ones you can live with and believe in.

10. Celebrate! You’ve just finished revising/editing your MS! Reward yourself for a job well done with a well-deserved break. And maybe some chocolate.


*Natascha Jaffa dedicates her experience to helping writers grow through her editing firm, SPJ Editing, which she considers the best job in the world. When she isn’t editing, you can catch her snowboarding, rock climbing, or training for her first Ragnar Relay. She’s an active PRO member of Romance Writers of America, an editor for SoCal’s Mystery Writers of America chapter and is published in suspense and romance as Nichole Severn. Writers can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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