The Productive Writer-The Anatomy of Book Revision


“Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”
― Raymond Chandler

Last week I talked about writing fast. Getting the words down on paper quickly is important to me, but what is equally important as Raymond Chandler suggests is that revision is also a necessary part of the writing process. This week I am talking about revision. I follow this advice of Raymond Chandler regularly. I write first and revise and edit later.

I think that this is a key element of writers who find themselves in the trap of writer’s block. While he or sh is trying to get the words down on paper the writer is trying to edit at the same time. That writer then loses focus on what he or she is trying to say and gets lost in the editing. However, its not the editing itself that is the problem. I, for one, probably need to edit more than I do, but it is the timing of the revising that is the problem.

I think that is what is so beautiful about NaNoWriMo. It teaches us that for one day a month we can write without editing. We can give our internal editor a month’s vacation while we write our guts out. I have had those days especially during that November rush where I felt at the end of a session that I didn’t have another word in me, but then the next day, I found more water in that writing well of mine. With NaNoWriMo books, the writers there suggest that once we have finished writing our first draft that the next thing that we should do is to ruthlessly edit out all of the bad stuff. I can never bring myself to do that right away. Usually, I blend the editing out of the bad stuff with lengthening the book to its final second draft length of eighty thousand words.

New Policies at Amazon Make Revisions Crucial

A few days ago I heard that Amazon is now cracking down on authors who publish books with formatting and proofreading problems. Beginning tomorrow, February 3, 2016, If  too many complaints come in about your books, Amazon now may take them down and not allow us to sell our books on their site any longer. All the more reason to be certain that typos are thoroughly removed with edits.

Revising Stages-Step One-Content Writing

There are two primary stages in the revising process.

The first stage of the revising process is content editing and this type of editing should be done first with the broad story in mind and gradually becoming more specific in what is being edited. The first thing that I edit is the main story elements and I use the three act play structure for this. Rather than me trying to explain what I mean in this article,Click Here for a link to an article that explains it better than I can

Character Arcs are the next aspect of this stage that I examine. This is probably as important as the back story in developing a realistic character. Beginning withe protagonist and the antagonist and ending with the characters that are only part of one scene, evaluate how the interaction of that character changes in the book. As you develop your characters determine why this person is important to the story. Is he or she there for a specific purpose or is he or she just there to build up the word count? If the character is there for simply adding word count, then you must either decide to eliminate the character or develop a more important role for that character. For more information about character arcs, here is an article by Darcy Patterson called the 3 types of character arcs, choose the best one for your novel. Click Here.

Once you have looked at the overall story structure and evaluated your characters, now evaluate each individual scene for value. Again is it simply there to add to the word count or does this scene have a purpose. Should you edit it out or can you find a way to give this scene a more important place in the story line.To learn to write the Perfect Scene, check out this  article by America’s Mad Professor of Fiction Writing Follow this link.

The final step in this stage is changing pretty passive prose into moving active phrases. This is where you “kill your darlings” those long pages of flowery description and those preachy author-narrator  monologues, It isn’t about taking out your favorite passages just because you like them either. They just have to have a purpose. This article “Killing your Darlings” by Jo Naylor explains this idea very well. Click here.

Revising Stage-Step Two- Checking For Accuracy

The next stage in writing is to double check on accuracy of information in your book. If there is someone doing a specific task make sure that they are doing the task correctly. Double check timing in your scenes. Do you allow reasonable time to accomplish certain tasks. If you are using dates, are these dates accurate. Was Thursday, November 26, 1842 Thanksgiving Day? The Answer to that is “No”. First November 26, 1842 occurred on a Saturday. Second, although there have been numerous days of thanksgiving throughout American history, Thanksgiving as we know it had not yet been celebrated.

As a historical novelist, not only must I check dates and how things were done at the time of my novels, but I also have to make sure that what people say are things that people might have said back then. However, I don’t necessarily want to be too much into the vocabulary of the time, otherwise, my readers might get lost in the dialogue.

Revising Stage-Step Three-Proofreading

Finally, last but not least comes proofreading. When it comes to proof reading, I am probably the world’s worst proofreader when it comes to proofreading what I personally have written. (I am a lot better editing for other people though). I think that the reason that I don’t proofread as well as I would like is that since I have gone over and over that scene numerous times, I see the wording as it should be and not necessarily as I see it in my head.

The first step that I take to proofread is to go through the entire manuscript and get rid of specific words that don’t really mean anything or add to the book. These are words like pretty, nice, very, and almost anything that ends in the letters “ly”. Ask yourself, “Does that word actually need to be there?” See what I mean? A good idea is to create your own list of words that you tend to you when you are writing that you don’t need.These words indicate lazy writing  These words are all part of your way of being lazy or passive.  For a great tool for identifying passive voice, check out this site.

Now you’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. of proof reading. I suggest that you develop your own check list regarding what you need to be checking in your proofreading. Use your spell check often, but never depend solely upon your spell check to find all the mistakes.  For more information about how to proofread, Check out The Muse, Edit your work Click here.

Another Set of Eyes

Once I have gone though this entire process. I am sick of what I have written. I definitely not in a position to judge my work any longer. In addition, I start becoming blind to my own work. Therefore, I happily send it to my beta readers who happily read it and tell me what mistakes they see. I learned that this process is most effective if I send it to one person and then to another. I don’t hand the beta reader a manuscript, however. Instead, I have a single book made at the LULU  a POD (print on demand) publisher and when that copy comes  back I send it to my first beta reader. A printed book is so much easier and I think less expensive than several hundred loose manuscript pages and there is little chance of losing pages. This also gives me a break from this project. Once the book has been edited by the first beta reader, I evaluate the edits. Sometimes I agree sometimes not, but after that revision, I send a copy (usually the same one the first beta reader had) to my second beta reader who is more adept at finding proofreading mistakes. After I take care of those edits, the manuscript is ready for formatting and distribution.

Book into the Hand of an Expert

Last Saturday at the OSLU held at my church, the last speaker of the day was Mike from White Harvest Seed Company. He like several of us had books for sale. Many of them I had seen on Amazon. I gave him a copy of Simply Vegetable Gardening. I then asked him to look it over and give me feedback on what he thought of the book and what he liked about it and what he thought that  I should do differently. The reason I picked him as an expert is that I felt that his high standards in seed quality would be a good litmus test of my authority as a garden expert myself. White Harvest Seeds’ motto is:Due to our high respect and love for these wonderful varieties, all of our seeds are true-to-type, Open-Pollinated Heirlooms – non-treated and non-GMO.” If you’re interested in learning about White Harvest Seed Company, check out

IMG_8330 final copy

Donna Brown is pastor at Faith in God Church  1 1/2 miles south of Brandsville, Missouri on Hwy 63. Sunday services are at 10 am and Wednesday night Bible Study at 6:30 pm.   As Author Cygnet Brown, she  has recently published her first nonfiction book: Simply Vegetable Gardening: Simple Organic Gardening Tips for the Beginning Gardener

She is also the author of historical fiction series The Locket Saga. which includes When God Turned His Head and Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, and most recently, A Coward’s Solace, Book III of the Locket Saga

Her most recent publication were two booklets Help From Kelp and Using Diatomaceous Earth Around the House and Yard. Available in paperback.

.For more information about Cygnet Brown and her book, check out her website at .


  1. Billybuc said:

    Great suggestions and observations. I wish every writer at HP understood the process as well as you do.

    • 1authorcygnetbrown said:

      Thanks Bill!

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