While every successful independent book needs the support of a good editor, writers will go through many rounds of revision as a part of the writing process. But, when you've spent hours crafting that draft, it's difficult to separate yourself enough to really give your work a good self-edit. Revision isn't just a matter of rereading your own work and making small changes. To really get into revision, a much deeper process is required. Here's five strategies for improving your own revision process.
Choose a Focus
Revising isn't just one read through. Instead, read through your draft several times, each time focusing on one specific element. Read it once focusing on the structure as a whole—the plot if you write fiction, and the organization if you write non-fiction. Read it again and focus on word choice, keeping a thesaurus handy for sentences that are lackluster while making sure to use words that readers won't have to pause to look up. If you have a specific weakness as a writer, such as tense usage, overuse of unnecessary words like “just” or passive voice, dedicate an entire read through on that issue.
Partner with Beta Readers
Beta readers are either those in your target audience or fellow writers who read your work and offer feedback before publishing. Outside input is an extremely valuable aspect to the revision process. Just make sure to select beta readers carefully since you want someone who will offer constructive criticism and not useless praise. Beta readers aren't professional editors, but as avid readers they can tell you what parts bored them, what confused them and what they just didn't like.
Read It Out Loud
Words sound different out loud than they do on paper. Reading your writing out loud is a great way to notice awkward sentence structure, typos, and other issues that go unnoticed on paper. Pay attention to the way words sound and note things that don't sound like natural speech or don't follow the style or the rest of your work.
Read It Backwards
Ever know what something is supposed to say, so you read right over the typos and don't even notice they are there? Don't worry, this happens to every writer. When you're ready to flush out smaller errors within individual sentences, start at the end of the book and read one sentence at a time (don't read the sentence backwards -- just reverse the order of your book). By reading each sentence out of order, you'll focus more on the sentence and less on the story.
Don't Revise on the Computer
Often, it's much easier to revise when you're looking at something concrete instead of a screen. Print out the entire document and make notes using the old (and perhaps cliché) red pen. To work on structure, write major points on sticky notes, put them in order, and stand back. Would another organization strategy work better? Revising is all about looking at your work in a new way. Printing it out is often an essential step.
Bonus Tip: Don't revise the same day you write the draft. Wait a few days, or even a few weeks, if you have that luxury. Allow yourself to forget about it a little bit and then come back to it with a fresh mind—you'll catch more errors that way.
Revision is an essential part of the writing process. Try to separate yourself from your work and examine what works and what doesn't both on a small scale, like word choice, and a large one, like structure. Once you're happy with the revisions, find a good editor you can trust to make sure all those spelling errors are cleaned up.