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Writers tricks of the trade - R is for revise

Award-winning author St. James with some of her books, speaks from experience regarding the need to revise
Award-winning author St. James with some of her books, speaks from experience regarding the need to revise
Marina Publishing Group

Good writers revise their work ~ Don’t hesitate when you see a better way

“Rewrite” is a very important “R” in the writer’s bag of tricks. Believe me, when it comes to rewrites and revisions experience is a harsh but excellent teacher.

Set a routine

When you prepare manuscripts for submission, regardless of your personal routine, each one should become the product of multiple edits and some rewrites. Never trust that your first effort is the final. Many authors go through every manuscript a minimum of three times.

After the manuscript is finished, the full manuscript should get yet another read-through. You are still not done if you want it as clean and concise as possible. Now review the revised draft again with a writing buddy acting as your unofficial editor.

You certainly want valid feedback and suggestions, so find a writing buddy who relates to your genre and whose work you admire for. This is one way to have a wonderful sounding board and trim up your work before it goes to the editor. If you belong to a critique group, by all means read your manuscript to the group as their policies allow.

Rule Number 1 – keep an open mind!

If you don’t keep options open, both for your own read-through and the suggestions by your writing buddy, there is no sense in doing the exercise. Reluctance to change is often regarded by editors as the mark of an amateur

“I can’t write five words but that I change seven.” –Dorothy Parker

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” –Truman Capote

“Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.” –Bernard Malamud

Sometimes considering a new angle, different ending or way of handling a scene is uplifting. It’s that wonderful break-through when the light bulb glows at 150 watts. St. James says, "That's what happened with "Betrayed," now in Kindle with the paperback to be released at the end of October. She says you can follow the path this book took at

At other times rewrites or revisions are painful because although you know it’s the right thing, you are also aware of how much work it will entail. It might also involve cutting or revising passages you loved.

There really isn’t a set standard for how and when to revise. Many authors review their work at the end of the day, but whatever works for you is a system.

Checking and double-checking for grammatical, spelling or tense errors should be a separate operation. It's possible to glide right past those errors if you’re engrossed in actually reading the masterpiece you’ve written.

Allow it to cool

Let the finished work cool down. Although you are apt to make revisions the minute you’ve finished a manuscript, then think that’s a final draft and rush to submit it, forget about it for at least a week. Just tuck it away and work on something else. Once you’ve put some distance between you and your revised masterpiece, it is absolutely amazing what still jumps out. That’s because you aren’t as attached to it as you were right after you finished. Fresh eyes notice things that tired eyes skip over. Proof from a printed copy whenever possible. You see things differently on a computer screen.

What’s best—to review sections or the whole manuscript?

Everyone has routines they feel comfortable with. Some won’t review one thing until the manuscript is finished and others massage every word over and over during the writing process. Some reread chapters as they finish the day’s writing. Sometimes it’s only one chapter, sometimes several. It depends upon how focused you were and whether it was a “hot” writing day—one of those days when the mind clicks into what could be called automatic pilot.

Whatever your style, remember it’s your system. An advantage to reviewing at the end of each writing day is that it allows you to catch potential problem areas before they multiply and affect other chapters. Making revisions as you catch them will definitely improve the manuscript

There are authors who say they review the manuscript only after it’s done, because revising as they go could mean never finishing it. If that works for them, it becomes their system. But, if that doesn’t work for you, here is another alternative. Consider placing a limit on how many times you edit while working toward a complete manuscript. Try limiting it to one or two passes, then on to the next chapter. Bear in mind that without a finished draft you haven’t reached the first plateau on the way to publication. There will be more opportunities to revise once the manuscript is finished.

Pros and cons

There is definitely merit to being able to read a full story and zero in on necessary changes. That way you are immersed in the zone as the whole tale unfolds. However, reviewing a few chapters at a time often saves editing or revision nightmares later. The earlier in the process errors are caught, the less the chance of possible problems when subsequent chapters are written.

What might pop out at you after you’ve made what you thought were final revisions

It’s not a bad idea to swing through what you’re submitting one more time before you put it in the envelope the first time or hit send. If you have received many rejections, maybe there is something in the beginning that screams "reject me." A few edits or revisions could be the difference between being published and not.


Award-winning author Morgan St. James is the author of twelve books, multiple short stories and over 500 published articles. She frequently gives talks or workshops at writers groups and conferences and publishes the bi-monthly eZine Writers’ Tricks of the Trade. New books releasing in October 2013 are La Bella Mafia, a shocking but inspirational story of abuse, gangs and giving back co-authored with Dennis N. Griffin as told by Bella Capo and Betrayed, a work of fiction involving kidnapping, rape and being left dead inspired by true events.

For more information and where to buy all of Morgan’s books, visit

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