Revision Tricks that Work for Me

Ever need a little magic in your revisions? I do, on a daily basis. Here’s a list-in-progress of some useful revision techniques I’ve found as I develop my writing skillz.

1. The Diary Method: I love my diary. Not only does it make me a saner person (notice that’s “saner,” not “sane”), but it helps me work out problems I’m having with story and plot. This method is simple: I ask a specific question, such as, “Why does Aaron want more females in the werewolf pack?” Then I come up with as many solutions as possible. Some of them are ridiculous (e.g. “He’s starting a harem” or “he wants to sell their long hair”), and I ignore them and keep going. I free-associate. I develop one idea for awhile, decide it’s no good, and move on to another. This diary trick has worked for me every single time, but I also can’t stress enough the power of taking a nap (see #5).

2. Backwords: I wouldn’t do this with a whole manuscript. Instead I work with scenes or chapters. What I do is start with the last paragraph and read it. I go through the whole scene/chapter, reading it backwards a paragraph at a time. This is my favorite method for culling useless paragraphs and sentences, because they stick out more when they aren’t going in order. (If you’ve spent any time revising, you’ll know what I mean: everything sounds normal, natural, and necessary when you’ve read it 600 times.)

3. Scratch Paper: My critique partner Jeri gave me this idea. It’s great for fixing up those awkward sentences. Have a separate, blank document open while you’re working on the computer. When you have to revise a tricky sentence, copy and paste it into the blank document, then work with it there. I find it so much easier to rephrase something without the distraction of the sentences coming before and after. Once the revised sentence is presentable, plug it back into the manuscript, then read through the whole paragraph to make sure the revision fits.

4. The Scene Outline: Nothing new about this idea; I’ve read about it in various places. However, it’s a new favorite of mine, so I’ll put it here. It’s easy but can be time consuming. Say you have a chapter with a few scenes in it, and you think there may be a few too many scenes. List the scenes, as well as what important thing(s) happen(s) in each one. The end result is up to you, but sometimes this overview can open your eyes to problems in pace and plot. Better yet, it can help you solve problems in pace and plot.

5. The Snooze: It might sound kind of weird, but a little self-hypnosis can do a revision good. The trick is to lie down somewhere comfortable and repeat positive affirmations about what you want to accomplish with your revision. The simpler, the better. Examples: “I will wake up knowing how to get Katniss down from the tree while the Careers wait below,” or, “I will wake up with ideas on why Aaron wants new werewolves.” At best, you work out problems with your manuscript. At worst, you get some sleep.

As I said above, this is a list in progress. Feel free to add your own ideas, tricks, and top-hat magic in the comments below.


  1. Danica · January 10, 2011

    These tricks sound like good ideas to try. But first I have to get the manuscript written. -_-

    • Beth Hull · January 11, 2011

      Maybe another page on “How to Finish that Blasted Manuscript” is in order? Of course, if I were to spend time creating one, I might not finish my manuscript!

      Good luck with your writing, Danica! And thanks for visiting & commenting.

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