Revision is an intricate and important part of the writing process, and one which many writers would rather ignore. After the initial excitement of finally finishing your book, the thought of going over the manuscript again and again can seem tedious. But books that have not been carefully revised will almost always be rejected, so spending the time now can save you frustration in the long run.
An editor will read a promising manuscript several times, first looking at the whole story and then at the details. Your revisions should follow the same pattern. The following are tips to help you make the most of your rewrites.
1. Put the manuscript away. The most useful thing you can do, upon completing your manuscript, is to set it aside for at least a week and start on something else. Once you've put some distance between yourself and your work, you'll be better able to read it again with an objective eye.
2. Read the whole book from start to finish in one sitting. Don't make any changes now, but jot notes to yourself in the margins of the manuscript if anything pops out as needing work. With this reading, look at the whole story. Does the beginning grab the reader? Does the action flow smoothly from chapter to chapter? Did you leave out important details that the reader needs to be able to follow the story? Is the ending logical and satisfying? Now go back and revise these big structural points. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 until you're satisfied with the overall story.
3. Cut, condense and tighten. Once you have the major elements of your book in place, you're ready to cut. Almost every book is overwritten in the early drafts. Look at long scenes and see where you can eliminate unnecessary details to keep the action moving. Condense lengthy passages of dialogue down to the essential elements. Replace two words with one, especially with verbs (plodded to school has more emotional weight than walked slowly to school). With nonfiction, check if you've repeated points over and over. The hardest thing to do as a writer is to cut, but if you can learn to sacrifice individual words, sentences, even chapters for the good of the whole book, you'll find your job is much easier.
4. Look at the details. Now you're going to go through the book, paragraph by paragraph, and fine-tune your prose. Even if you're sure the opening scene grabs the reader, can the first sentence be improved? Does something happen in the last paragraph of each chapter that makes the reader want to turn the page and see what happens next? With picture books, do your descriptions create strong, specific visual images? Does each sentence of dialogue move the story forward or give insight into the personality of the speaker? Can you add details to nonfiction that make the topic more relevant to your readers' lives, such as analogies or humorous examples? This is the step where you work to make your writing as good as it can be.
5. Watch out for weak spots. Know where your weaknesses are as a writer and learn to spot them in your manuscript. Punctuation (especially in dialogue) is a problem with some writers. Others overuse vague adjectives and adverbs (words like very, little and big rarely add to a description — instead, use specific terms that create an exact picture in your readers' minds). Be aware of words you use over and over; common ones are seemed and would (would go instead of went). Finally, make sure you as the author remain invisible. Avoid speaking directly to the reader (And what do you think happened next?) or giving your opinion of your characters' actions (Jake wisely decided to call his mother). It's up to your readers to label your characters' behavior as right or wrong.
The editor who reads your manuscript will appreciate the time you take to revise. And you'll appreciate it when you get an offer for a publishing contract.