How to Revise Your Novel More Efficiently

This tip will help you manage your list of revision tasks with efficiency (and sanity!) It’s a trick I picked up over several months of revising BETWEEN BURNING WORLDS (the sequel to my sci-fi space opera, SKY WITHOUT STARS). During the revision period of this book my co-author and I had a lot of super tight turnaround times where we had to revise a LOT of book in a VERY short amount of time. We owe a lot of our success to this tip! I call it the “Level Down” method. 

The key is to break up your revision tasks into Levels of Difficulty. 

I like to use comments when I revise. After collecting all my feedback (from editors, beta readers, my own read-through, etc.), I insert them as tasks into the manuscript via the comment feature (Note: I use Microsoft Word to draft and revise, I can’t vouch for this technique working in Scrivener, but hopefully you Scrivener writers will figure out how to make it work for you too!) 

As I leave the “comment tasks” in the manuscript, I break them into levels of difficulty and label them as such: i.e. LEVEL1, LEVEL2, LEVEL3.

A “Level 1” revision task might be something easy and quick like, updating a description of a character’s appearance or inserting a quick mention of something that has to get paid off later. While a “Level 4” revision task might be something more complicated and intricate like, revising the thread of a character’s emotional arc or rewriting an entire scene or chapter. You can have as many levels as you want, but for the sake of simplicity, I wouldn’t go higher than 5. 

IMPORTANT: You need to label your levels with a unique spelling so that when you search for them later, they don’t get mixed up with actual words in your manuscript, like LEVEL1 or LVL1, EASYTASK, HARDTASK, etc. Think of it like a secret revising code. It only needs to make sense to you! 

Once you’ve inserted all these labeled tasks into your manuscript, now you can start to tackle them with efficiency and ultimate manageability. Feel free to design your own strategy but here’s my strategy for you to use or modify as you see fit:  

I like to try to tackle 1-2 “Level 4” tasks each morning when I feel the freshest and most motivated to write. To find these, simply do a Search (Find) in your manuscript (CTRL+F) and type the label you’ve given your Level 4 tasks. (Word will find the comments where these labels appear!) If you’re on a tighter deadline or have a high number of Level 4 tasks, you may have to adjust how many you do each day. 

Once I complete those, I try for a few “Level 3” tasks. As the day goes on and I get less and less motivated to work, I keep myself going by bumping down the levels. So by the afternoon, when I’m tired and cranky and just want to call it a day, I do a search for “LEVEL1” and I arrive at a comment like, “Add a potted plant to this scene to kill off later,” I think, oh, well, that’s easy enough. I can do that. And I can keep knocking off comments even when I’m tired. 

This strategy is great because it adapts to your natural wane in motivation as you move through the day (or your allotted writing time).  

Every time you finish a revision task, you can delete the comment (and man, does it feel good!) And if you want to get super “gamified” about it, open the Reviewing Pane in your Word doc (Go to the Review tab on to the top of your screen and under “Tracking” click “Reviewing Pane”) and see how many Comments you have left! This is great way to track your revision progress! 

Don’t feel like you have to revise in order with this method. You can jump all over the manuscript however you want. If you’re kind of person that HAS to revise in order, this method might not work for you. But you can still use comments to keep track of your revision tasks (simply click from comment to comment and tackle them in order, or read through the document from the beginning, tackling comments as you get to them.)

You can also use this same method to break up your tasks by “Category”instead of Level, like, “World Building,” “Character Development,” “Descriptions,” “Pacing,” etc. Then, you tackle each revision category one at a time and keep your mind focused on one element of the manuscript at a time before moving onto another. 

Hope this helps you as much as it’s helped me! Happy Revising!


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