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When you’re writing the first draft of your novel, there are a few schools of thought out there regarding revising. Many authors recommend not revising at all, instead plowing through your entire first draft from beginning to end. This, they argue, ensures you get the whole story out. Other writers advocate revising as you go—as long as you don’t get bogged down in it endlessly.

I’ve found myself in the second camp. I like to write a scene, then go back and revise it immediately two or three times. These initial in-the-moment revisions happen in Scrivener right after I’ve finished the scene. Usually I’ll correct sentence flow, extend things if needed, and correct structural issues in the scene. Usually my raw first attempt at a scene doesn’t come off very polished. Since I’m fresh, it’s easier for me to immediately make a lot of necessary changes.

How to revise

In order to revise well, you need distance from the writing in two ways: time and format. The first is easy: simply wait. The longer you wait, the more powerful your fresh perspective will be when you come back. The second is harder: how do you change the format of your words? Some authors print the whole book out, killing entire forests of trees. Some simply change the font on-screen. No matter how you do it, it helps if you change things up.

Revising on Kindle

In addition to my immediate scene revisions, I also do a second set of revisions every evening. I handle this revision differently: after I’ve finished writing for the day, I use Scrivener to spit out a .mobi file and push that file out to my Kindle Paperwhite.

Then I wait a few hours.

Later that night, if I have some downtime (usually right before bed when I’d normally be reading anyway), I pull out the Kindle and read the last one or two chapters of my novel. I consistently find that reading my work on Kindle makes it feel like a “real book” to me. I’ve spent years reading on Kindle, so seeing my words on its screen causes my brain to switch from writer to reader in a powerful way. Although I haven’t tried printing the thing out (and probably won’t), I imagine this works better.

I call this revising on Kindle, but you can’t actually revise on the Kindle. Instead, I keep my MacBook Air next to me while I read. I try to read most of the chapter all at once before I make any changes on the laptop, but sometimes pesky word choices and other sentence-level stuff jumps out at me, and I stop what I’m doing to fix it.

I tend to write short chapters (on purpose), so this whole process doesn’t take very long. Since I’m usually revising three to four scenes (or more) every day using this method, and I’m only writing one or two scenes a day, this means my revisions overlap. The writing gets stronger on a daily basis as I continually revise. Chapters I’d written early in the week read much better later in the week. It’s a cool feeling!

A real book

It feels great to read my writing on Kindle. It feels like I have a real book growing in my hands. Like I’m really doing it. This is really happening.

Daily revisions only work at the sentence and paragraph level, not for big structure or plot changes. I’m an outliner, so at this point in the process I’m just filling in the blanks, writing to the outline from beginning to end. It’s the sentence- and paragraph-level stuff that needs work at this point.

I work this way in all my other disciplines: software, music, games. I like to fully polish stuff out as I go, rather than prototyping quickly and fixing everything later. When I’ve finished the first draft in six months or so, I’ll have much stronger prose than if I hadn’t done any revising at all. My hope is that this will keep me from hating my work at the end, getting depressed and wanting to throw it all out.

What works for me might not work for you

Every writer is different. How do you revise? Do you do it on a daily basis, or spit the whole thing out before circling back? How do you gain distance from the manuscript format itself, to turn yourself into a reader?