The Most Important First Step of ANY Novel Revision

You finished a first draft. Phew! And now you may or may not be staring at a huge pile of messy pages that may or may not resemble a novel. My guess is you’re exhausted. You’re burnt out. You’re sick of this story and all of the characters and never want to look at them again! Sounds like the perfect headspace to be in for starting your revision!

Can you sense my sarcasm?

The truth is, the first step in revising your novel after any whirlwind marathon of writing a first draft is actually NOT revising your novel.


Too many people, after finishing a first draft, dive straight into the revision. Either because they’re terrified they’re going to forget everything, lose their momentum, or maybe they have deadlines looming and don’t have a second to spare. Or maybe they do it because they think that’s the way you’re supposed to do it. Well, I’m not a big fan of “supposed to” anything, but I’ll tell you what my first step is in revising any novel (and from what I’ve heard from other authors, a very common and important first step in revising a novel).

And that’s to forget your story.

Yup. You read that right. Instead of scrambling to start your revision so you remember everything about your story, you might find yourself better off to do the opposite.

I find that the more I can forget my story, the better chance I have at revising it with clarity, confidence, and inspiration.

If you’ve just finished the first draft of a novel, then trying to revise it right away will not only fatigue and overwhelm you, it also might not be the best use of your time because your brain hasn’t had a chance to reset and refresh. You won’t be able to look at your manuscript with fresh eyes and see your problems with the perspective you need to fix them.

Let’s look at the word “revision”. It literally means re-vision. To see your story in a new way. In other words, to stop seeing your story as a writer and start seeing it as a reader. And in order to do that. You kind of need to forget all about it.

So, how do you forget your story? Easy. Time.

A few weeks should do it. Even a few months if you want. Or if you’re on a tight deadline, try a few days. Time is the most important first step in any revision because with time you get distance, with distance you get perspective, with perspective you get clarity, and with clarity you get confidence.

I can’t tell you how many first drafts I’ve finished thinking the problems in it were unclimbable mountains and uncrossable chasms and unmovable continents, only to find, after just a little time and distance, that not only were those problems not as big as I thought, but the solutions to them were more obvious and less complicated than I imagined. But these were solutions I probably would have never come up with right after the first draft was done. These were solutions that only came because I was able to re-look at my story more objectively after…you guessed it. Time.

So do yourself (and your story!) a favor. Take a break from it. Work on something else.  Another creative project. Maybe another novel. Give the story some time and space and then come back to it when you’re feeling refreshed and motivated again. And don’t be surprised if solutions to your problems start popping up in your time away (because brains are pretty good at working on things without telling you they’re working on things.) If that happens, write your ideas down somewhere and keep trying to forget your story. Only when you’ve forgotten it can you be introduced to it again with excitement, like an old friend you can’t wait to catch up with.

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