Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 26, 2020

32 Steps to Revising Your First Draft

Nobody Ever Said Revision Would Be Easy:

32 Steps to Revising Your First Draft

By Terry Pierce

Writing is revising. It’s just that simple. Rarely does a writer create a story and not have to revise. Revisions occur during the writing process, and after we sell our work. We toil over a manuscript for months, even years, and after the elation of selling our work, there always comes the reality of more revision. An editor’s revision requests are usually specific to his/her/their publishing house’s interests, or perhaps his/her/their own ideas for how to strengthen the text. But here, I’ll talk about the revisions you might try while polishing your work to a sparkling gem!

Unlike first draft writing, which can be a purely right-brain creative process, revision is where writers roll up their sleeves, plunge their hands into the wet clay and then squeeze, twist, roll and contort their words until they’ve sculpted the perfect text. There’s nothing pretty or glamorous about it. It’s hard, tedious, and time-consuming. And very intentional. But it’s a necessary (and rewarding) part of the writing process.

I’ve heard many writers say they hate revising and others say the same thing about writing the first draft. Some struggle to get those first words on the page, and the revision process is where they thrive. For others, it’s the opposite. Whichever camp you might fall into, it’s important to recognize the different parts of the writing process: pre-writing (thinking about our story idea), writing (first draft) and revising.

So…you’ve finished your first draft and now it’s time for your inner editor to speak up! Your story now needs a more critical eye. This is when you can start using tools to revise, and check to see if you’re following the “rules” (although sometimes rules are best when they’re broken). I should mention that many of these tips are for picture book revision, but many apply to all kinds of writing, because good writing reaches across all types of writing.

TOOLS

This is a list of tools that I always keep an arm’s length away when revising picture books (which is what I mostly write).

· A good thesaurus. I prefer the Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner. This is great for identifying words for the grade level at which children can comprehend them. It’s also a good thesaurus for elementary-age words.

· A rhyming dictionary (IF the story is in rhyme).

· Publisher’s guidelines. IF you’re writing to submit to a specific publisher, it helps to know their guidelines. This is especially important for educational publishers, as their guidelines are often quite specific.

· Highlighter markers (especially for revising picture books).

· Coffee, dark chocolate and a cat (because revision can be tough, so a little comfort goes a long way).

RULES (and guidelines)

Now for the “rules” to consider while revising, which are “more like guidelines,” to borrow a phrase from The Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Below is a checklist of sorts, thirty-two steps to consider as you revise…

STORY BASICS:

1. Story (#1!) Above all, there must be a story. And it must be a good one. All the clever wording and consideration for a young reader won’t see the light of publication if there is no story. Do you have an interesting character in a compelling situation? If it’s nonfiction, is there a clear topic/subject, tone, angle, and theme?

2. Is the opening strong? Do you address the basics? WHO/WHY/WHEN/WHERE/WHAT on the first page? Do you begin the moment things become different for the main character? If the story is non-fiction, do you show the topic, tone, hook, and angle on the first page?

3. Does the story have rising action with a clear structure and pacing?

4. Is your ending satisfying? (circular, reasonable, not predictable, occurs on the final three page-spreads).

5. Is the main character likable or sympathetic? Is he flawed? Does he learn something about himself by the end of the story?

6. Does the main character struggle (and fail!)? Does he solve the problem himself?

7. Scene checks: Does each scene/page-spread advance the plot or add to the characterization?

8. Picturability (to borrow a phrase from Anastasia Suen). For picture books, have you allowed room for the illustrations to tell half the story? So important!

9. If you plan to draft a story in rhyme, write the first draft in prose. Always. A prose drafts serves as a roadmap for your story in case the rhyme hijacks your story (and trust me, it will!).

WRITING STYLE:

10. Is your Point of View consistent?

11. Is your tense consistent?

12. Highlight all adjectives—then remove by using stronger nouns.

13. Highlight all adverbs— then remove by using stronger verbs.

14. Highlight all dialogue. Is it believable? Natural? Correct speech tag usage? (You can’t “smile” or “laugh” words).

15. Check for metaphors and similes—do they fit, or do they distract?

16. Have you avoided clichés?

17. Check for SDT (Show, Don’t Tell). *Kathy has some great posts about this. I also talk about this on my blog.

18. Eliminate “poor word choices” that weaken writing—just, really, very, now, suddenly, feel/felt, “to be” verbs: there is/are/was/were, would, could, that. “Feeling” words (happy, sad, etc.). Seriously–do a “Find” for each of these and try to remove them.

19. Have you used an “active voice” rather than “passive voice”? Set your “Grammar and Spell-check” on your computer to help with this.

20. Check for correct preposition use (in—into, on—onto, etc.).

21. Did you avoid current slang and brand names? (these will date your book).

22. Have you considered EVERY word for its value and contribution to the story’s tone? In other words, does the language enhance the story to its fullest?

23. Make a book dummy. Read your story aloud as if it’s a real book. Use the dummy to refine the text, determine the page turns and pacing. *Kathy has a great how-to post for illustrators on book dummies. I also have post on my blog for how writers can make a simple text dummy as revision tool.

AFTER YOU’VE DONE ALL THAT…

24. Record yourself reading your story aloud. Play back and listen carefully for flow and language. Do the page turn work? Pacing? Revise, if needed.

25. Put the manuscript in a drawer for at least one week.

26. Read aloud again (even longer works—many children’s books are read aloud by educators). Revise, if needed.

27. Put manuscript in a dummy format (again). Adjust page turns and make other corrections.

28. Read aloud (or record again). Check flow and pace.

29. Let someone else read your story aloud to you (keep an extra copy on hand to make quick notes).

30. Put away for another week.

31. Check again. Are you satisfied? If so, let your writing partner or writing group read it.

32. Now comes the stressful part—deciding when it’s ready to submit! There’s no right answer, but if your writing group/partner’s feedback is positive, and you find yourself hemming and hawing over a minor detail or two, you’re probably ready to submit.

I should also say that when I first started writing, I followed all these steps (not always in the same order). Eventually though, many of them have became second nature to me, so I don’t have to pull out the checklist anymore. And you might find that some tips resonate more with you than others. That’s great! The goal is to figure out a revision process that works for YOU.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite movie quotes (from the 1992 film, A League of Their Own), said by Coach Jimmy Dugan: “It’s supposed to be hard…If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

Happy revising!

TERRY PIERCE is the author of twenty-five children’s books, including Love Can Come in Many Ways, Soccer Time!, Mama Loves You So, My Busy Green Garden, and Tae Kwon Do! (2007 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books).

Terry has a B.A. degree in Early Childhood Development and an International A.M.I. Montessori teaching diploma. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, including the Picture Book Concentration certification. She now writes full-time and teaches Picture Book Writing courses for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She’ll be teaching “Picture Book Writing II” Winter Quarter 2021.

https://www.uclaextension.edu/writing-journalism/creative-writing/course/picture-book-ii-writing-x-4412

The course is “Picture Book Writing II,” is an intermediate course on picture book writing, meaning it would help to have a basic understanding of writing picture books, as a prerequisite. The goal is to end the class with two completed manuscripts.!

She lives in the high Sierra mountain town of Mammoth Lakes, CA. Nature inspires her writing, wherever she finds herself. She lives with her husband and is a servant to two lovable cats. She’s looking forward to the release off her next board book, Eat Up, Bear! (Yosemite Conservancy 2021) in April 2021. Please visit her at: http://www.terrypiercebooks.com.

Thank you Terry for taking the time to share your writing tips with us. You provided a lot of great information for us to use.

REMINDER: Terry’s new book LOVE CAN COME IN MANY WAYS was featured on October 18th. You still can leave a comment to get in the running for the book giveaway. Click here.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. This is a great list of revising tips. Thank you for sharing your expertise! Congrats on your new books coming out. 🙂

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on Terry Pierce and commented:
    Today I shared some revision tips on Kathy Temean’s blog, Writing & Illustrating. Enjoy!

    Like

  3. I’m bookmarking this post & sharing with my critique partners. Thanks so much Terry & Kathy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re very welcome!

      Like

  4. Great tips for new writers and great reminders for experienced ones!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Janet. I hope they help!

      Like

  5. Fantastic tips! Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  6. Great post. Thanks so much for this.

    Like

  7. OH, how I love lists like this 😀 Thanks, Terry!

    Like


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