Revisions: Don’t Be Afraid to Make (Big) Changes

Photo credit: Wrote on Flickr
The thought of revisions—real revisions—can often be intimidating. With the first draft completed, you have, in many ways, completed the hardest part—you’ve taken your imagination and turned it into a novel. But despite the hours spent on completing such a task, the work has really just begun.

With the exception of authors who write astoundingly clean first drafts (these are a minority), the heavy lifting really comes after the first draft has been written. This is the time when you look over your work and make difficult decisions. This is the time when you have to be brutally honest with yourself about what needs fixing, what can be salvaged and what must be stripped out. This is the time when characters are cut, subplots are emphasized (or removed altogether), scenes are added and cringe-worthy dialogue/chapters/paragraphs/sections get the axe.

And let’s be honest—sometimes it’s a little scary.

By the time you reach the revision stage, you’ve already spent a lot of time on your book. You’ve already laughed, and cried, and exhausted yourself in the process of writing a novel, and now you have to throw some of that work away. Now you have to write more, and make changes that sometimes mean altering huge sections of your WIP, and the thought of the sheer amount of work ahead can be more than a little nerve-wracking.

The thing that you have to remember when facing revisions is that it’s worth it. The extra work, the painful cuts and the extra weeks or months spent taking your work from first to finished draft is worth the work and heartache—and more than that, it can even be a little exciting. There’s something special about molding your original draft into something better, into a draft that really does your story justice. And yes, sometimes in order to reach that stage you have to make enormous changes, but your novel will be so much better for it.

So when the time comes for you to start those revisions, make a copy of your WIP (so you always have an original to go back to if needed) and start hacking. When you come out the other side with a shiny new draft in your hands, you’ll be glad you did.

Have you ever made huge changes to a WIP? How did you feel before and after the revisions?


Robin Red said...

I've been making a list as I write and edit my WIP, so when I finish (which shall be soon, yay!) I can quickly run through the list and figure out what will solve most of the problems with the least number of changes. Ava, have you ever tried to do a straight read-through of your entire WIP without editing anything along the way?

Ava Jae said...

Yes! I actually wrote a post a while back about the first-read through, in which I highly recommend reading your WIP without making any changes at all. I do this every time I'm reading a first draft for the first time. :)

I can give you the link, if you'd like.

Robin Red said...

Please do :) It was a little scary, and kind of torture because I'd already relived every scene so many times, but it helped me figure out the pace. I think I handled my action scenes well. Heart-racing, but not too vague in detail.

Ava Jae said...

Upon digging through my archives, I found two posts that you might find helpful:

Discussion: On the First Reading of Your WIP and How to Read Your Writing Objectively. Hope it helps! :)

Imogen Elvis said...

I'm staring big revisions in the face right now actually. And it's scary. Looking at all the writing and seeing all the's hard to know where to start sometimes. I'll tell you how I feel at the end when I actually get there

Ava Jae said...

I find that it's much easier to tackle revisions if you break it up into small tasks. Employing checklists can also help, in my experience. Good luck with your revisions!

Daisy Carter said...

I always keep a copy of each draft after a revision, no matter how small the change. It's amazing to go back to the original and look it over - so much has changed! But what's amazing is that even though the final draft is so different, it's what I was trying to say all along.

Ava Jae said...

"But what's amazing is that even though the final draft is so different, it's what I was trying to say all along."

Yes! That's my favorite part of revising--being able to look back at your work and seeing just how much has changed, but how it conveys your story better than it ever did before.

I also keep copies of every draft. That way, if I ever overdo it while editing, I know I can always revert parts of it back however far I need to. :)

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