Revising your Novel: Playing in the Sandbox
Before I wrote my novel, I scoured the internet, searching for facts about how to write one. I got all the books, I took all the seminars, and I attended all the events. I learned a lot about how to get started, how to write a first draft, and at the end, how to find a publisher. But all of these educational materials skipped one very important stage: Revising your novel.
Now that I have written my novel and made it through that writing process, I have some things to share about how the process of revising your novel works.
First, have you ever seen this quote?
I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.Shannon Hale
I never understood what this quote meant before I began working on my novel, because I never understood what came after a first draft. Many articles, videos, classes, etc. about writing failed to explain the drafting process.
I’ve learned a lot while revising my own novel, so here are the steps of revising your novel as I see them:
Step 1: Plan
Don’t skip this step. I know many writers do, believing instead that a story comes from pure inspiration. While elements of the story may be inspired, the whole thing will not stand on inspiration alone.
The good news is that planning doesn’t have to be anything crazy. I recommend writing down your main story milestones just so you can keep in mind where you’re headed as you write. Trust me, writing a first draft can sometimes feel like slogging through a swamp. It’s super easy to lose your way and forget what you came here for. A plan is like a map to keep you focused on your goals.
Step 2: Write
Some writers say you should write your first draft in one sitting, but let’s be honest, if you’re writing a book-length novel, that’s unreasonable. My first draft, handwritten, took me about 3 months to complete between juggling work and family responsibilities.
I recommend writing every day and just keep moving forward. Even keep a second notebook or document for notes, so you don’t start writing out of order. It means you can jot down great ideas for chapters without skipping too far ahead.
Step 3: Plan
Wait, didn’t we already say this? Well, yes, but now that you have a whole first draft, it’s time to start planning again!
You have the whole sandbox filled with sand, and it’s time to start figuring out how to best structure that sandcastle, so to speak.
Step 4: Write
Wait a minute, is she pranking me?
No, I absolutely am not. It’s true, this process is repetitive and constantly cycles between planning and writing. As you go, you will have to do less and less of it as you reach nearer to the finished product, but ultimately, you will keep repeating this process until you’re done.
Revising your novel is a complex and demanding process that requires patience, persistence, and a willingness to make big changes. Trust your instincts and make the revisions that feel right to you, and don’t be afraid to play in that sand box! Remember that revising is an ongoing process, and you’ll continue to improve with each draft.