Having finished my second novel, THE HOLLOW QUEEN, and having let a few months pass, I've now started the excruciating process of revising it. I have to go through and do this at least once before I'll let my critique partners read it. When they're done critiquing, I'll go through it again. And again. And maybe one more time before I let them read it a second time. And then I'll revise some more. And maybe more after that.
The first draft, of course, is terrible. Awful. I hate it. HATE it. I wrote it as quickly as I could and paid little mind to good grammar, active voice, and sentence structure. I also wrote it for the purpose of getting the story out, not necessarily telling the story well.
Since this is only my second novel, revising is still a major process for me. However, there are a few things I learned from my first novel, which I am putting into practice this time around to make life a little easier on myself:
1. Don't let anyone read the first draft. ANY. ONE. I already have a page full of notes I made as I was writing the first draft, of things I need to change. There is a huge continuity error in the middle. Names change halfway through. Characters' entire religions and ethnicities change, and I have to fix all so it at least makes some kind of sense to human beings.
2. Don't let anyone other than my three critique partners read the second, third, or fourth drafts. Too many cooks, and all that. By the time I let my loved ones read my work now -- even short stories -- I'm pretty much at the point where the piece is ready, or very nearly ready, for submission. This way they get to experience the work the way I want other readers to experience it.
3. Make notes. Lots, and lots of notes. Like I said, I have a page full of them: things I wanted to remember to add earlier on in the story, names that have to be changed, points I need to look up and clarify.
4. Use this resource to identify overused words, and change them.
5. Do a search for the following, and change them: "-ly," "that," "seemed," "tried," "began," "felt," "knew," "it," "was."
6. Comb each chapter for character motivations. Since this novel is multiple POV, make sure each character has a distinctive voice.
Only when all of this is done, will I feel comfortable sending a draft to my crit partners. Even then, I know the manuscript will not be the best it can be...yet. I'll get their notes back. Some I'll agree with, and make changes. Others I'll disagree with and leave alone. I'll revise yet again, and probably think of a few new things to add or remove from the ms. Then I'll send out a draft again. And then I'll keep revising until I feel like the only real "changes" left are small, insignificant ones. That's when I know it's ready: ready to query to agents, ready to pitch on Twitter contests. Ready to be read by my husband and other loves ones.
But that journey is still a thousand miles from where I am right now. I'll get there, and hopefully this time around I'll get there quicker than the three years it took me with my first novel. Until then, I try not to beat myself up too much, and just focus.