Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

From mess to success: A writer’s guide to revision

A no-fear guide to revising your novel.



A first draft of a novel is, almost without exception, not a finished novel. Revision is where the real work of the novel happens. If you haven’t already, you’ll surely find your own method, borrowed from what you’ve read or heard or developed entirely on your own. Maybe you’ll revise as you write, or maybe you’ll follow a two-stage process of drafting and revising. Maybe you’ll develop a step-by-step process.

Whatever you choose, be open to change. Each novel has its own requirements, and be sure to carefully consider these as you seek to finish, and polish, your own work of art.


Revision tips from the pros

Anthony Varallo: “Revision is your chance to pull off one of fiction’s greatest tricks; namely, convincing the reader that the sentence she just read in a few seconds didn’t actually take hours and hours of labor to get right.”


Roz Morris: “Revision is ‘re-vision’ – each time you read through the manuscript or polish even a small section, you are understanding your book more deeply.”


Skip Horack: “I find it helpful to begin each writing day by revising the words I wrote the previous day – and then I try to roll forward with a couple more pages of new writing, onward and onward, rinse and repeat.”


Laleh Khadivi: “If the first draft is well thought out, solid in its intention, then revisions are often about possibility.”


Whitney Scharer: “Revision is work, there’s no way around it, and it helps to be able to track your progress. Make a list of revision tasks and get the satisfaction of checking completed tasks off the list. You will eventually reach a place where you’ve made your book the best you can make it.”


—Jack Smith is the author of four novels, three books of nonfiction, and numerous reviews, articles, and interviews. His collection of articles on fiction writing, Inventing the World, was recently published by Serving House Books.

Add to Favorites