Ann Hood discusses the revision process for novels and memoirs.

[Podcast] The Revision Process for Novels and Memoirs

3 honing the writing craft podcast post Oct 17, 2022

New writers know they need to revise their manuscript. But when you’re new at something, it’s often difficult to know where to start the revision process for novels and memoirs.

You might be relieved to hear that there’s not a one-size-fits-all revision process for novels and memoirs.

Like writing, revising is about finding your own process. That typically happens through trial and error. Some writers revise every 50 pages. Other writers will aim for a certain word count, stop writing, and then start revising. Writers might break their manuscript into a three-act structure and revise each individual section upon completion.

There is no right or wrong process!

We spoke with novelist and memoirist Ann Hood, author of Fly Girl: A Memoir, who helped us reframe the revision process. And in this blog post, we’ve provided tips on how to revise your manuscript.

What Is the Revision Process for Novels and Memoirs?

New writers often mistake copy editing with revision. They read through their first draft and tweak the grammar. They notice a misspelled word and correct it. But revision isn’t solely copy editing, and it’s not a one-and-done process.

Revision is the act of reimagining your work.

It’s about getting the words right, and also getting the story to a place where there are no mistakes. You want your narrative to be at a place where your story has no weak spots.

From accounts that support your meta idea to the development of characters, every detail in your story has a purpose—and a place. The revision process helps you determine where the details belong. 

The revision process for novels and memoirs can be disheartening. You just spent months—years—writing your manuscript and all you want is to publish it. But revision is a necessity. It’s the takeoff to getting your book ready for publication. It’s not necessarily the glamorous part, but when you revise and get it right, it’s just as glorious as writing.

So, what does revising look like?

Types of Revision: Micro vs. Macro

In our interview, Ann explained there are two different types of revision: micro and macro. Effective revision relies on both forms to produce a great manuscript. 

Micro revision—as its name denotes—focuses on the minute details of your manuscript. It’s the copy edit of your manuscript. Incorrect grammar, spelling errors, flat cadence, and poor paragraph structure fall into this category.

Typically, micro revision comes last—it’s the proof of your manuscript before you release it to agents and publishers. Copyediting is the final polish. It reflects your credibility as a writer. And agents will stop reading your manuscript if simple errors are abundant.

The second type of revision is macro—the revision of the development of your plot (novel) or big idea (nonfiction and memoir), as well as revising the structure, character arcs, and timeline of your story.

A macro revision will tighten your story. It demands all of your pieces fit together in an intricate, unbreakable bond so that there are no mistakes, that your story never falls flat. This typically happens long before the copyedit. 

How to Revise through the Macro Method

To effectively revise your manuscript, you need to develop a cold eye on your own work. You need to be objective. And you need to give yourself distance between you and your completed manuscript. At least a week. 

Ann says that without distance and objectivity, you will overlook crucial plot holes, grammatical and spelling errors, and inconsistencies with your meta idea/theme. Once you’ve given your brain a proper break, then you can start revising.

When you’re writing more than 50k words, it’s hard to juggle all of the small details throughout your manuscript. One method of revision is to write a brief explanation—one to two sentences—of major parts of your story. An explanation of the major parts of your story will help you keep your details aligned.

For a novel, this would include your major character arcs, the general plot, and the subplots of your manuscript. For a memoir or nonfiction, you would write an explanation on your meta idea (and themes), the structure (chronological, past vs. present, thematic), and the development of your book’s idea.

Another method of revision: Write bullet points to help you structure your plot and character arcs (fiction), or your meta idea and structure/timeline (memoir and nonfiction). Like the brief-explanation method, the bullet-point method will help you keep track of the finer details in your manuscript. You can see your story take shape. And then correct inconsistencies within your timelines, meta ideas, character arcs, etc.

First drafts are glorious messes, as Ann likes to say. They should be messy—and require change. 

But that’s what makes the revision process so fulfilling.

You are reimagining your story, weaving threads together so that your plot is accurate and engaging, developing your meta idea into a succinctly argued solution, developing your characters into realistic and nuanced people, and structuring your ideas into the strongest support for your main idea.

Revision is the reimagination of your manuscript. It improves the flaws, reworks flat sections, and creates a story worthy of publication. Stop avoiding it, and get to work.