Congratulations! You’ve written your first manuscript. So…what the heck do you do now? The answer?
First pass revisions!
Now, a quick disclaimer here. Everyone has a different process, and everyone’s writing journey is going to look a little different, so I’m going to frame this writing advice within the confines of my own experience and it will be up to you to decide how it applies to you.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I started doing my first pass edits on Demon Fall. It was one big test of trial and error, and I learned a lot. This experience taught me that these initial revisions and edits are a game of endurance, that hard, tight deadlines in this stage don’t work, it’s too early for beta readers, and that first pass revisions really are just prep work for draft two.
A Game of Endurance
While writing the first draft of your manuscript is a mental game, first pass revisions is an endurance game.
I took a month off of Demon Fall after I finished the manuscript, thinking I’d do quick touch ups and clarification in the chapters before handing it off to beta readers. But when the day came for me to revisit the text, I found there was a lot more work to be done than I had anticipated, and there were no “quick touch ups.”
I became frustrated. Under the right circumstances, I draft fairly quickly. However, I found that I could only edit and revise half as fast as I could draft. I had to slow down to interpret the mess I had written. What was I trying to say? Was there a way I could say it more clearly? These types of questions did not have easy answers, and I had to accept that cleaning up my manuscript was going to be a much longer process than I planned.
And so I learned that first pass revisions are a game of endurance. With this type of slow work, you need to show up every day. You’ll need to sit with your work and figure out how you can clarify your writing, tighten it up. I mean, I’m sure there are some superheroes out there who are able to swallow this elephant whole, but I’d be willing to bet those people are few and far between. You need to put in the time, and put it in consistently, even when the work sucks and you have no idea how you’re going to fix your “pile of hot garbage.”
At this stage, it is so easy to just quit, move on to the next bit, start a new project. But don’t stop showing up and make sure you know why you’re going through making these first revisions. I had to remind myself constantly that I was making these edits so I didn’t get feedback from beta readers on things I already knew were problems, and it helped motivate me to push on.
Which leads me to my next lesson.
It’s too Early for Beta Readers
Unfortunately, I had to get betas prematurely to realize I had gotten betas prematurely.
My original plan was to do these “quick” (haha) revisions and then drop three chapters a week to betas.
That did not work, my friends.
I couldn’t keep up with the release schedule, for starters. With revisions taking twice as long as I had planned, the process became long, drawn out and painful. I was embarrassed at the state the manuscript was in and didn’t want people to give me feedback on things I knew were wrong. This caused significant delays in my schedule. I’m not sure if my betas felt the same way (yet), but it certainly felt that way to me because I couldn’t deliver on my upload promises. Heck, I’m still dealing with the domino effects of this, and I feel really bad.
The other thing betas taught me was that I had a whole lot of worldbuilding that I should have done (and could have done) before I passed it along to readers. But this was something I needed pointed out to me so that I could look for it again the next time I’m in this stage of the process. I don’t think I would have learned it otherwise.
Once again, not everyone is going to have the same experience as me, but in reality, if you need feedback on an early version such as this, reaching out to a critique partner for help might be the better way to go. Beta readers are a much later step, like when you are closer to submission or publication, whereas a critique partner will be more familiar with the writing process and can give you targeted feedback to help you improve your writing and smooth out those wrinkles before it gets to readers. The help and direction they give can help you build a better second draft that’s more ready for your audience.
First Pass Revisions are Really Just Prep Work for Draft Two
Having my betas point out all my worldbuilding and plot problems was a sign that I needed to have another draft before handing it out to readers. First pass revisions are really just groundwork for the second draft. Because I had decided to crush myself with a stringent upload schedule and add the pressure of performing for betas, I didn’t take the time I could have to fill in my obvious gaps. I know I could have filled them, too!
This taught me that next time, I need to make my first pass revision the time when I identify plot holes and world building gaps that I can see and then handle them, instead of glossing over them for future Aisley. Since I could have filled the gaps with a little more brainstorming and rewriting, I should have. But for some reason I thought it would be better for me to just make a mental note of these things and hand it off to betas anyway.
For example, one thing that I wish I had addressed before passing my work off to betas was that while I intended to write an adult science fiction book, it came out like a YA dystopia novel. As I was slogging through my no-longer-quick-edits, I realized this and immediately had a deluge of ideas on how I could fix it. If I had decided to take the time to do a full second draft instead a shallow, quick revision, I would have been a lot more happy with the product and closer to what I had imagined it would be.
Another thing I identified through this pass was I had quite a few chapters that needed to be expanded. This is not something generally done in a quick editing pass…this is draft two level stuff here, guys. Because of this, my beta reading timeline was stretched way too long and I think my beta readers started to lose interest in the story because they weren’t being uploaded in a timely fashion. I also realized I had several loose plot points that showed up towards the end of the manuscript that needed to be tied down earlier because I made all those changes while splitting chapters. Rather than taking the time to fix it in a full revision pass, I just marked it as a first mention for my beta readers and left the problem for future Aisley (again).
I cannot stress this enough: First pass revisions are prep work for draft two!
So what did I learn? When we do our initial read throughs and edits, we are going to find giant mistakes in there that we can just handle ourselves, that we don’t have to have feedback from others to fix. As you are going through this process yourself, make notes of all the big-picture edits you can see. Mark places where the sentences don’t flow or you have no idea what you were trying to say. Take the time to dive in and just get the work done, because it sure as heck isn’t going to do itself. Do you need to split or delete chapters? Just get it over with. Yeah, it’s going to take a long time, but you’ll be much happier with your work if you do a deep edit after drafting rather than just a quick pass for clarification and a blast out to feedback.
I made so many mistakes while learning how to do first pass revisions. There’s a lot I would change about the way I discovered my process. Unfortunately for me, if I hadn’t made the mistakes I did, I wouldn’t have known that a first pass was going to be more than superficial edits. I wouldn’t have known it was a game of endurance, that it was too early for beta readers, and that it is prep work for my second draft. I would have put so much more consideration into my edits and I would have taken the time to do a full-on revision before giving it to anyone for feedback.
First pass revisions ended up being a longer process than I anticipated, and it was made a lot longer by the mistakes I made along the way. But the biggest lesson that remains is that the next steps after finishing a manuscript is to pony up, clock in every day, and make those changes as they happen. Eat that elephant one bite at a time, and chip away at the behemoth that is the second draft. I promise it is all worth it. I can’t tell you how often I wanted to give up; but I kept trucking, and eventually it got done. Do your best and keep going! You’ll be able to take that much deserved and long-needed rest soon!
What was the hardest part of your experience revising a novel for the first time?