Revision time…

Tonight I printed the first draft of Tangled (my novel-in-progress) in its entirety. Here it is:


174,500 words. 344 A4 pages, printed double-sided. That's one hefty manuscript.

This weekend, I’ll start the revision process. So, it’s timely to ask, what exactly is revision?

To quote Theodore Reese Albert Cheney’s Getting the Words Right, revision is ‘rewriting, rereading, reviewing, rethinking, rearranging, repairing, restructuring, re-evaluating, editing, tightening, sharpening, smoothing, pruning, polishing, punching up, amending, emending, altering, eliminating, transposing, expanding, condensing, connecting, cohering, unifying, perfecting, transitioning…’


That sounds like a lot of work. It’s a bit overwhelming when you think of it all in one hit like that. So I won’t be thinking of it like that. I’ll be thinking of it in the three stages Mr Cheney recommends: reduce, rearrange, reword.

Stage one: reduce

Chainsaw‘ To axe, cut, compress, condense, decrease, delete, drop, eliminate, eradicate, excise, hone, lop, pare, prune, reduce, remove, revise, rewrite, sharpen, slash, streamline, tighten, trim, whittle…

Two dozen words to remind us that we almost always write too many words,’ says Mr Cheney.

But surely all of my 174 500 words are gems! Then again, yWriter tells me that Tangled currently includes 1,100 instances of ‘just’ and 1,028 instances of ‘like’. I guess one or two of those could be culled… Maybe… 😉

To make the reduction stage more structured, Mr Cheney breaks it into several sub-stages:
• Shorten or remove whole chapters, sections and paragraphs.
• Shorten or remove superfluous, ineffective or redundant sentences and words.
• Replace longer words with shorter words.

The thought of removing whole chapters makes me feel slightly ill. All of the time, creative energy and laborious thought that’s gone into writing those pages… But, as Mr Cheney rightly argues, the only thing that counts is whether the chapter does what needs doing. Does it move the story along or delay it?

So, starting on Saturday, I will begin my editing process by re-reading the entire manuscript and seeing whether there are whole chapters, sections or paragraphs that can be removed. Out comes the chainsaw!

I’m interested to know – does this sequential approach mirror your own editing process? Or do you tackle issues in a different order, or perhaps all at once? Any tips on how to focus on the big issues (i.e. is this section necessary?) rather than the little ones (i.e. should this be ‘heavy’ or ‘weighty’?)?



Filed under Editing, Progress update, Revising, Tangled, Writing, YA fiction

18 responses to “Revision time…

  1. I wish you the VERY BEST of luck! Seriously. I’m going to be starting this process soon and I’m more than a little scared!!
    How about this to make us feel better: All the amazing scenes that we end up taking out we can keep somewhere so that one day when we’re super famous and we have tons of adoring fans we can treat them to an occasional DELETED SCENE!
    Hehehe… 🙂

    • That’s a great way to look at it, Rachel. I’ve read the deleted scenes from the Twilight series on Stephenie Meyer’s website so I know this happens (because surely I’m going to receive the same number of devoted as Stephenie, right? ;))

  2. Ooh, that’s a great idea Rachel!

    I second the good luck!!!

    I wish I had some helpful wisdom to share, but I have yet to successfully revise anything longer than an early reader. Therefore, I shall be VERY interested in how the progress goes for you, what you find works and what doesn’t etc. I’ve also got to check out that ywriter thing – seems like an easy way to cut out 1,000 words or so – I can live without “justs” and “likes” 🙂

    • Thanks, Susanna. 🙂

      yWriter is fantastic FREE novel writing software. I’ve found it really worthwhile for managing my scenes, characters etc. I’d definitely recommend it.

  3. Go to it girl! You’ll thank yourself later – and those scenes you cry tears over now will one day be completely forgotten… in a good way.

    My first draft of the first book I ever wrote had 191,000 words and detailed descriptions of everything from school rules, to gushing soliloquey’s on the hero’s amazing physique. *Ahem*

    The draft that went to editors was 71,000 words long and WAY better. ‘Nuff said.

    Be ruthless! Think of the current draft as a big ol’ block of wood that holds the most beautiful sculpture within it – you just have to cut off the chunks that don’t show the picture.

    It will be worth it!

    • Hehehe. Gushing soliloquies… love it. 191,000 to 71,000 – that is one MASSIVE reduction. I really like your sculpture comparison, it’s very motivating. I’m definitely going to keep it in my mind when I’m cutting beloved chunks of words. It kind of goes with my chainsaw image too – except you probably need a more subtle tool than a chainsaw to create a sculpture. 🙂

  4. If I’d known more about editing when starting out on “Sundown” revisions, I might’ve saved myself a lot of time. 😉 As it is, I’m getting there now, but it’s taken longer than it should have I think! Anyway…I have had to remove entire chapters. It’s painful in a way, but exhilarating in another!

  5. I’ve recently deleted my FAVORITE chapter from Fie Eoin. While I loved it to pieces, my critters said it was boring and didn’t advance the story. And they were right, I was just too close to see it. So I understand your fear (I tried and tried and tried to find a way to keep it, but in the end I hit delete on all but three scenes in the very beginning of the chapter – I have long chapters).

    My editing process usually ends up being a full re-write, and the stuff that bores me I just don’t re-write.

    • Wow, that is massive, Rebecca. I hope you kept it in a separate document, for prosperity’s sake. But good on you for making the hard decisions so that Fie Eoin becomes the best it can be. I’m impressed. 🙂

  6. I’m in the middle of a revision myself and totally feel unprepared for all that it entails but know that I will pull through.

  7. Hi Cally! I revise from the structure down. I read the manuscript, ignore the writing, the details and the inconsitencies, and work out whether the story underneath it is sound. The chainsaw gets a lot of work, but the novel ends up leaner and fitter. Good luck!

    • Great approach, Roz. That’s pretty much the approach I plan to take too. It’s a little nerve wracking though. Will I be able to tell the gold from the brass? Hope so! 🙂

  8. So how’s it going so far?
    The other thing I wanted to say is, it’s kind of expensive to print out copies of manuscripts, right? I mean, I’m not sure how much it costs if I use my home printer (which currently has no ink!) but if I go to the little shop down the road it will cost me around R400. And that’s just to print it once. So to print it each time I have another draft to go through…. Yeah, it’s adding up!

  9. Best of luck with it, I’m thinking of you! I’m with Roz, ignore the little stuff and make sure your structure is spot-on. Then you can get more into details.



  10. Yeah for the chainsaw 🙂

    good luck


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