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A Survivor's Guide to Revisions

YA Highway teen contributor Kody Keplinger's debut, THE DUFF, will be published by Little, Brown/Poppy in September 2010. For more about Kody, visit our Who We Are page.
There is a point many authors reach early in their careers. It’s a moment of elation and joy. When the first draft of a novel is complete, and you feel as though you have accomplished all the success in the world.

And then the question hits.

“What now?”

It’s a terrifying question, of course. You know your novel needs work, but where to begin? Staring at a word document and realizing it has 60,000 or so words to be edited can really ruin that moment of happiness. But never fear! Survivor’s Guide To Revisions is here!

Every author approaches revisions differently, with different time frames. But here are a few key steps that will help you whip that newly completed manuscript into shape!

Step 1 – READ

It may have taken you anywhere from three years to two weeks to write that novel. Either way, it isn’t likely that your brain stored all of those words or that you can quote your novel by heart. So the first step to this revision is to read your novel. As you read, take notes on things that you know need to be revised. Does a character need to be taken out? Does a scene need to be added? Write these things down somewhere for future reference, but don’t try to tackle them just yet. In your first pass, perhaps focus only polishing grammatical issues in your book. Don’t be in a rush to do everything at once. Art takes time, remember?

Step 2 – RIP APART

After a decent gestation period – different depending on each author – take another look at the notes you made while reading your first draft. With these notes in mind, you should proceed to completely rip apart your book. Add and cut and change all of the things you noted before. Again, don’t try to rush yourself. This is often the hardest step, but it can be the most crucial.

Step 3 – SHARE

Once you’ve done all you know to do with your novel, consider letting some fresh eyes take a look. Critiques are always helpful, even if they aren’t from other authors. If you don’t feel comfortable with anyone but your sister, mother, or best friend reading your book, that’s okay! Have them tell you EXACTLY what they thought. Take some of their suggestions into consideration. Not all of their ideas may be right for your novel, but they are definitely things to think about. And remember, the more critique you can get, the better. Every set of eyes offers something new, and feedback is always a good thing.


Once you’ve had someone assess your work, reevaluate some of their ideas. Would they help your story? Are they worth giving a try? Once you know what you want to do, go back through your manuscript and implement the approved changes. You may do this multiple times depending on how many people read your work, so don’t try to give yourself a time limit. The more polished your work is, the better.

Step 5 – POLISH

When you are sure your book is the best it can be content-wise, give yourself time to do one more pass of the manuscript to clean up any left over grammatical errors. Take the time to read the book as you go. This is the best time to reflect on all the improvements you’ve made, and give yourself a pat on the back. YOU SURVIVED REVISIONS!

Of course, this process may be repeated multiple times depending on the author and the manuscript, but a rough guide never hurts! Take revisions a step at a time. They can be overwhelming, but if you take them at an easy pace, you’ll make it through.
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. Dear Jeebus, thank you! A normal, gimmick-free guide, huzzah. Fantabulous.

  2. I'd just like to add that good critique buddies are worth their weight in gold.

  3. Yeah for great crit buddies who aren't afraid to tell you the truth, and who really know what they're talking about.

  4. Step 2 is my fav, and so happens to be where I am right now.

    *shreds frantically*

  5. Thanks for this! It's funny... I think most of us know all this information internally, but seeing it on paper (or screen, rather) validates that we are doing things 'properly.'

  6. Excellent post! Sometimes it is scary to think you have to do it all over again after you've finished. But writing is never done, and that's half the fun, right? Right.


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Item Reviewed: A Survivor's Guide to Revisions Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard