Novel Writing

Revising one chapter at a time

English: Manuscript fragment from Chapter 14 o...
Do you ever wonder if fragments of your notebooks will someday end up on display in some museum? | English: Manuscript fragment from Chapter 14 of Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I admit it. Revising my rough manuscript is intimidating. For a few weeks now, I have been researching my general topic and thinking about starting my revisions. However, I have not actually done much writing. I have come up with a ton of new ideas, but I have not written many of them down. For the past few weeks, I have been more of a thinker than a doer.

Several times, I have opened my master file on my computer, or picked up the hard copy I printed out and thought about revising. But, where do you even begin? My first draft is full of plot holes and logistical errors. My recent research dictates that I completely change a few major elements of my story. Any way you look at it, it is a hot mess. There is so much work left to do, it is overwhelming.

Then I got a brilliant idea. Why don’t I just start with Chapter 1 and revise one chapter at a time?

That’s brilliant, right?

I peeled my first chapter off the stack, plus a little bit of Chapter 2 that was at the bottom of the last page of Chapter 1. I set the rest of the manuscript aside and focused only on those first eleven pages. I scribbled notes all over Chapter 1, but there weren’t any major changes needed just yet (although that might change after my workshop group this afternoon.)

At the top of Chapter 2, I had two supporting characters fixing dinner and had made a note to myself to come back and describe what they were doing. Then it occurred to me that I should probably start the chapter by telling my reader what my protagonist was doing, and then lead into those other descriptive details. I also decided I wanted to show my MC’s grandmother and have a bit of interaction between the two of them. (The grandmother is going to be more important in my second draft than I had made her out to be in the first, so I may as well start writing her in earlier in the story, right?)

Next thing I knew, I had scribbled out a brand new scene – seven full pages in my notebook – to add to the beginning of Chapter 2. How’s that for fleshing out my story?

Apparently, revising one chapter at a time works for me. What works for you? Please share in the comments below.

~Amanda L. Webster

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