Tackling Revisions

11 May

by Susan Dennard



This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!


Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is now available from HarperTeen. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.


29 Responses to “Tackling Revisions”

  1. Stephanie Relf May 11, 2011 at 3:17 AM #

    OMGosh thank you SO much! I’m still on my first draft but I knew revisions were waiting for me and it was terrifying! *fingers crossed* After this it should be way more manageable 🙂 x

    • Susan May 11, 2011 at 3:21 AM #

      Yay! I hope this helps! I’ve just put up a link to a printable PDF version, and all the workshop lessons & worksheets will be available in PDFs too! 😀

      • Andrea May 11, 2011 at 6:02 AM #

        I love your points about considering the level of the revisions. The big picture stuff is harder to work on, especially when you’ve finished your draft and you don’t want to pull it all apart again. But it’s so worth it! Thanks for the great advice.

        • Susan May 11, 2011 at 7:57 AM #

          Big picture stuff is both harder and has a bigger impact (duh, right! :)), so if you don’t deal with it first, you could end up editing a novel that isn’t the novel you even want! Oh me oh my did I do this with my very first novel…I must have edited some scenes 20+ times, only to end up cutting them!! ::headdesk::

  2. Marc Vun Kannon May 11, 2011 at 6:13 AM #

    My first step is always the mechanical stuff. I do a simple search through the text for words like WAS, WERE, THAT, HAD, and so on. For each one I have to examine the sentence it’s in to see if I need it there, or figure out how to change it. This forces me to think of the book dynamically, which in turn means that when I get to a part that isn’t dynamic or needed I’m more likely to recognize it. Most of my edits are structural items like that, but I recently removed 20K words from a novel by recognizing that several scenes were simply unnecessary.

    • Susan May 11, 2011 at 7:58 AM #

      Out of curiosity, how do you deal with big picture problems like plot issues or character? Do you write according to a strict outline so you don’t end up with these?

      • Marc Vun Kannon May 11, 2011 at 10:39 AM #

        I never outline. I discover the plot as my characters do. Occasionally I will get some idea for an event, and I will then try to get my characters to a place where that event can occur. For me the ‘big issue’ edits are usually an integral part of the story creation, I couldn’t finish it otherwise.


        My latest novel, St. Martin’s Moon (which by the way is being officially released on Sunday!) is the exception. I had to write ‘The End’ and let it sit for two weeks before I realized what the story was about, and then went back and revised. I just realized during my blog tour that I had completely misconstrued the actual genre of the book!

  3. Cheyenne May 11, 2011 at 7:12 AM #

    Really love this, thanks for sharing it and looking forward to Friday! It sounds ridiculous (and embarrassing) but I hadn’t even though to just READ through my current draft and take notes before making changes. (I know. Duh). I can get so caught up in changing one word here or moving one sentence there that I lose track of the bigger picture. Totally guilty of that.

    • Susan May 11, 2011 at 8:00 AM #

      Don’t be embarrassed because you’re SO not alone in that! The very first novel I wrote got edited SO MANY times before I even finished. So the first quarter of that book is spotless…and it took me months and months to write. And when I finally reached “The End”, I realized that whole first quarter no longer even worked with the book! What a waste of time…but at least I learned my lesson! I made SURE to write the first draft of SS&D all the way through before I did *any* edits. 😀

  4. Racquel Henry May 11, 2011 at 7:56 AM #

    What an excellent post! This was very helpful because I’m working on revising my first novel and I have been feeling a little lost. I’m prinitng this out and hanging it by my desk. I’m heading to your blog now. 🙂

    • Susan May 11, 2011 at 8:04 AM #

      Great! I can’t wait to get the revisions series in full swing! If you have the time, we’re doing a revisions chat tomorrow night–it’d be great to “see” you there! 😀

  5. Juni Case May 11, 2011 at 8:44 AM #

    Whoa this is PERFECT timing! I’ll be heading home tonight from college. I plan to spend this summer revising my first draft! (I know you emailed this to me but the colors make it more fun. :P)


    • Susan May 11, 2011 at 9:20 AM #

      Well, if you want to print out these “pretty colorful” ones, I’m actually “revising” the revisions packet so it is (hopefully) easier to follow! Plus, if you have any questions, you can always go to the comments section for each lesson and ask away!

      And yay for going home from college!!

  6. Savannah J. Foley May 11, 2011 at 9:28 AM #

    Totally amazing instructions! Thanks for such a detailed post, Susan!

    Right now all my revisions are about voice, with the only instruction basically ‘fix the voice’ for the entire novel. Makes me wish for setting issues!

  7. ChemistKen May 11, 2011 at 9:59 AM #

    Since I’m still working on the first draft on my first MS, I have no idea what it’s going to be like when I revise for the very first time. I’m afraid that: 1) I won’t be able to recognize any of the areas that need revising and 2) that even when I can tell something is wrong, I won’t have a clue as to how to fix it.

    Other than those two minor sticking points, it sounds as though revising and tightening the story might be kind of fun.

    • Susan May 11, 2011 at 10:16 AM #

      Not gonna lie–revising and tightening ARE FUN!! 😀

      But in all honesty, learning to SPOT problems can be one of the hardest things to learn. On Friday, I’ll talk about the different kinds of problems and how to keep track of them. I don’t go into *too* much detail, but I can always talk about it in the comments.

      Keep in mind that most problems are obvious! Like plot holes (um, wasn’t this a murder mystery? Crap, I never wrote in the murder discovery scene!) or character’s feeling “off” (er, when Maryanne steps on the page, she’s dull–bleh, I’m skimming!). I promise that it’s easier to spot problems than you think–ESPECIALLY if it’s your first time reading the whole novel through. The more you read it, the harder it gets to see issues. That’s why I suggest WRITE-WRITE-WRITE that first drat and don’t look back until the end! 😀

  8. Rowenna May 11, 2011 at 10:32 AM #

    For some reason, phase one for me is always print the whole thing! I have to read it in print. And then I make myself read it without making any notes. Not one, not anywhere. Just read. It’s really, really hard. But then I can let it sit and ferment and really think about what needs changing, overarching in the whole thing, instead of just reacting in the moment.

    Then I’m allowed to bust out the colored pens–and my colored pen system is a lot like your index card system 🙂 I love my colored pens!

    • Susan May 11, 2011 at 1:38 PM #

      Yay for colors!! I RELY on them–especially when I’m revising on a deadline. It helps keep things soooooo nice and organized.

  9. Dawn Brazil May 11, 2011 at 12:19 PM #

    This is a great post on editing. Thanks for sharing your tips. I love them.

    • Susan May 11, 2011 at 1:39 PM #

      You’re so very welcome, Dawn! 🙂

  10. Meredith May 11, 2011 at 12:37 PM #

    That’s a great system! I too learned the hard way that line-edits come last, not first. A whole series of edits … for nothing!

    Outlining before revising completely saved me last time. Great, great advice!

    • Susan May 11, 2011 at 1:40 PM #

      Ha, yes–I think we talked about this, didn’t we? Outlining before revising is super helpful, and avoiding line-edits (while kinda hard since my fingers itch to correct) saves so much time in the end!

  11. Heather May 11, 2011 at 3:31 PM #

    Great post! I’ve been “revising” (read: looking at my first draft and saying, “Hmm, should probably edit that.”) for a few months, so I’m really excited for the rest of this workshop 🙂

  12. Liz Hellebuyck May 15, 2011 at 12:58 AM #

    I like that you set out goals before hand. I have been through a few revisions and found that I was wasting time because I didn’t know what I was looking for.

    I have since done some research on styles of rewriting and found that it helps me a lot to focus on a few goals during a rewrite.

    I love reading about other people’s revision process. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Today, while I was at work, my sister stole my iphone and tested to see if it can
    survive a forty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation.
    My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views.

    I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it with someone!


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