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How To Revise Without Losing Confidence

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From Dani Alcorn.



I recently had a conversation with a Writing Academy student that really stuck with me and is very timely for anyone just finishing NaNoWriMo.

This student participated in Writing Academy's November Novel Writing Challenge last year and wrote 50,000 words. She elected to delay her post-challenge consultation until she'd finished her manuscript.

She did some cleanup work on the first part of the manuscript and sent me the first 5,000 words. We had (what I thought) was a really productive chat about opportunities to revise her manuscript to improve her writing and bring the protagonist's voice to life.

We said goodbye and I didn't think too much about it until she sent me a thank you note the next day. She thanked me for my honest feedback but confessed she was discouraged by the gap between where her writing currently was and where she wanted it to be. She even wondered if maybe writing wasn't for her.

I was horrified!

The last thing I'd been trying to do was discourage her. I wrote back right away and explained why she shouldn't let the revision process deter her from pursuing her dreams.

Many writers dread revisions because they don't realize their first draft won’t be perfect. It's a first draft! It's supposed to be messy.

It's also common to assume "polishing" (or the cleanup work she'd done) is the same as revising.

Revising is a creative process that involves taking a GIANT step back and evaluating your manuscript as though you’ve never seen it before. You must ask yourself questions like:

  • Is my Protagonist’s arc clear?
  • Did I tell the story I set out to tell?
  • Is every character/scene/plot point serving the manuscript as a whole?
  • Do my characters have unique, consistent voices throughout?
  • Where can I show rather than tell?
  • How had I grown as a writer by the last page and how can I apply that to the first?

As you revise, you will delete and replace entire sections, move scenes around, cut or combine characters. It’ll get messier before it gets better! And it's only after this process is complete that you'll move onto editing and polishing your sentences.

Many writers (like the author I talked with) become discouraged at this step because they only see the gap between where their manuscript is and where they want it to be.

I'll tell you what I told her: Don’t worry! Even New York Times best-selling authors go through this exact same process.

For proof, check out the Deluxe Edition of John Green’s Looking for Alaska. This was his first novel. It won the Michael L. Printz Award, was a New York Times Bestseller, has been adapted into a series on Hulu, and is quoted literally all over the internet.

The first chapter of this book is brilliant. It subtly introduces the protagonist and a TON of information about his character and backstory without feeling like an info dump. (We actually analyze it in our Writing Young Adult Fiction Workshop).

What’s special about the deluxe edition of Looking for Alaska is that it includes multiple drafts of the opening chapter.

The first draft is… fine.

It’s not awful. But it isn’t New York Times quality.

It took even John Green multiple revisions (and an editor) to get it just right.

If you're ever struggling with doubt, put your manuscript away for a few days, weeks, or even months. This will allow you to distance yourself emotionally from a messy first draft so you can focus on the room for improvement rather than the shortcomings.

Don’t lose faith during the revision process. There is light at the end of the tunnel.



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So, I understand the word "noir" but not in this context. Is "noir" a very succinct, bare-bones writing style?

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If you can accept that what you are writing is a work in progress event when you have finished a draft the helps psychologically.  You've got the pieces of the jigsaw down in a pattern.  Now comes the fun/hard part (depending on how you view things) of rearranging, cutting and, ultimately improving you work even more.


Although I received a fairly positive assessment of Demons the one thing that they did recommend was pulling Cora's story forward. That meant completely reworking the sequence of chapter and timeline for part one. Difficult but the work is overall much better for it. 

Thinking back on that the hardest thing was getting my head around how to do what they were asking. That is perhaps the discouraging aspect and where you could lose confidence. I would encourage anyone to just sit tight. let you mind wander and wait for the 'ah' bulb to ping.

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