How I Revise A Rough Draft

Jan 04, 2016 Main blog 20 comments

Happy New Year!

2016 is going to be a good one, and I can’t wait to see what it has in store for all of us!

There are some fantastic books coming out, including THE RAVEN KING by Maggie Stiefvater and CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber, which was incredible in draft form and will be even more so as a published novel, I’m sure. These are two of my most anticipated reads! My TBR pile is growing by the day, especially since I got a bunch of Barnes and Noble gift cards for Christmas, but… it’s a good problem to have! I’m also looking forward to reading my critique partners’ brand-new projects.

Speaking of brand-new projects, I recently turned in the second draft of FOTL. I had a self-imposed deadline of December 31 and I squeaked in a few days early! It was a bit rough because I had to literally rewrite 85% of the book. I scrapped a subplot, changed the arc of the main plot, and tinkered with my characters quite a bit.

I probably wrote three new scenes for every one I deleted, which is why the word count grew from 95,000 words to a final total of 106,500. (About 326 pages in Microsoft Word for non-writers who want to know!)

So, because I promised to blog about my revision process, here is a quick look at how I fix up a rough draft. Yes, it is a LOT of work. No, it won’t be effective for everyone. I’m very organized and methodical in the way I revise, which takes the magic out of writing for many people, I know. But it’s how I operate best and it has helped me come up with many relatively clean drafts for readers!



  1. Reread the entire manuscript. I gave myself one week off after completing the rough draft, and then read the entire thing from top to bottom.
  2. While reading, I made a chapter outline. That’s what you see in the top two rows in the picture. I typed a brief overview of what happens in each chapter, then printed it and laid it out chronologically. This shows me the scope of my entire book in one glance.
  3. While reading, I made a list of things to fix. I noted down problems that I saw and ideas on how to fix them. They were as simple as “Describe the surroundings more in the market scene” and as complicated as changing the arc of a relationship, which requires adding/deleting scenes, adjusting dialogue, and occasionally even rewriting an entire character.
  4. Organize the list of things to fix. The list turned out to be about 6-7 pages long. I broke them up into categories: Plot Revisions, World-Building Revisions, and Character Revisions, then printed them out. That’s what you see in the third row of the photo.
  5. I killed a ton of sticky notes. I scribbled the needed edits on sticky notes by color (I was only halfway done in the photo above!). Yellow meant plot changes and new scenes, green meant characterization changes, pink meant world-building, and purple meant line edits. Then, on the chapter outline, I stuck the changes wherever they needed to go. This gave me a great visual before revising and helped identify problem areas, AND I could move the edits as necessary when scenes shifted while rewriting. I moved the stickies many, many times before the end.
  6. Begin revising. I’m a plotter, so having that brand-new chapter outline — complete with everything I had to fix, organized by chapter — was a godsend. It helped me feel less overwhelmed, because I could take one page at a time and focus on the sticky notes on that page. Then I’d work on the next page, and so on, until the whole book was done. Some changes took hours to make, while others took entire days. Aside from that week off after finishing the rough draft, I worked nonstop every single day (including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) to complete these revisions. I think it was worth it, because I’m pretty happy with this draft, even with the kinks I know still need to be worked out!


Before I get the inevitable “You know you can do that in Tracked Changes?” or “You should buy Scrivener,” I have to point out that this process helps me because it is away from the computer. I am touching the scenes with my fingers, and physically moving them around on the sticky notes. I find it effective to do it this way before jumping back in front of a glowing screen.
I’m planning to revisit these steps after I get feedback on the manuscript. Hopefully it won’t be as extensive (fingers crossed), but I fully expect to do several more rounds of revision before the manuscript is “done”!
I hope this helps those of you who’ve asked about my revision process! We all have different techniques that work for us, so feel free to try any part or none at all, if you’re not type A like me or writing a fantasy, which I feel requires a lot more organization and planning.
How do you guys revise? Do you see any similarities between our processes? And if you blog about how your process, please leave a link in the comments as I would love to check it out!


20 Responses to β€œHow I Revise A Rough Draft”

  1. Well, I'm certainly not that organized! But I do have to do it away from the computer. It involves a lot of scribbling in the margins.

  2. The chapter outline early on is good. I'm making one now (late in the process) and discovered I have a 48 hour day in there! Oops! Happy New Year!

  3. Tiana Smith says:

    Ha ha, I was totally going to mention that you should try Scrivener. But I get what you mean – sometimes, getting away from the computer is the best way to see things how they stand. I actually have a very similar process that I do through Scrivener (chapter outlines, broad notes, specific notes, organized by color, etc.) After I've gone through all that, I do my final read through on a physical copy. If only writing were easier! πŸ˜‰

  4. That's too organized for me.

    My best tactic is cull, hack, and destroy.

  5. I also make a chapter outline after the first draft. I put it in a two-column table and across from each chapter I list the changes that need to go into that chapter. I call it Side-by-Side Outlining.

    I write the second draft that way, then I go back and make several fast successive drafts focusing on plot, then character, then voice.

  6. You are my reminder today to tidy up my desk.

    Something to consider, but I doubt I'll ever be that organized. I usually have note books for varied projects, but they sometimes get riddled with daily thoughts and doodles.

    I take notes to add to a scene to the top of the page when I'm on word.

    Glad to see it works good for you.

    Wishing you very best of 2016, Julie.

  7. dolorah says:

    I do a lot of re-reading and editing on the computer, but for me, there is nothing like holding a pen and marking up a printed copy. I read paper differently than screen. Weird, huh?

    I never thought of using track changes to make notes on my own writings. Now there is a trick you didn't expect to teach me, lol. The process of editing/revising is as different to everyone as is drafting the original. I don't think there is a wrong way, just ones that work for you. And sometimes, it can help others.

    Love love all the sticky notes. I'm a fan!!!

  8. mshatch says:

    I find having a chapter by chapter outline to be very helpful, and even tho I'm a pantser by nature I often start one early.

  9. Thanks for sharing! I keep meaning to try the sticky notes and haven't yet, but think I will for my next revision.

  10. I've tried a lot of revision methods, including lovely colored sticky notes — which I love the concept of, but which just don't flow for me. In the end, I usually have a series of uncategorized bullet points I need to address, and a lot of re-reading and tweaking as I go. Probably not the fastest method and I'm sure it makes an efficiency expert cry, but it seems to be working for me, anyway. I don't recommend it across the board!

    Congratulations on finishing the draft, and early!

  11. (BTW, I'm looking forward to THE RAVEN KING too!)

  12. Shari says:

    I thought I was the only one who doesn't use "tracked changes" when revising! We are kindred spirits. πŸ™‚ I agree with you — I like to get away from the computer screen and physically write things down, arrange them, etc. It's always a big help!

  13. Our processes are similar! I revise with a hard copy too. I've always had to do that, even when revising research papers in college. I catch mistakes so much better with a hard copy than onscreen.

    Thanks for sharing your process, Julie! Happy revising!!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

  14. I do something similar (using an outline and colored post-it flags)–seeing things on paper as opposed to computer screen can make a big difference.

  15. Everyone has their method, and that is quite a method! Happy New Year, Julie! πŸ™‚

  16. Julie C. Dao says:

    Alex: Organization doesn't do it for everyone. I know about 90% of the writers I've spoken to prefer to work spontaneously, but I just can't get a good grip on my plot and characters if I do that.

    Southpaw: HA! That was a good catch! It's amazing the things we find in the revision stages, isn't it?!

    Tiana: Haha, I thought you might mention it. Everyone's been pushing Scrivener on me, and I'm sure it's an amazing program, but I like being literally hands-on with revisions.

    R. Mac: Hey, whatever works best for you! As long as we all emerge from the other side with a solid manuscript, right?

    Dianne: I like the column idea! It sounds like we have a very similar start process for revisions.

    Jacqueline: Yep, this definitely won't work for everyone, but I like to hear other writers' revision techniques because it's fun to see how much they can differ!

    Donna: I don't think that is weird at all! I catch a ton of stuff reading my work on paper that I wouldn't normally catch on a glowing screen. It's the same thing with reading in your head, and reading aloud, I think.

    Marcy: I don't know how other writers work without an outline. I 1,000% need a road map to at least help guide me through the plot points I want to hit!

    Leandra: If nothing else, the sticky notes are fun and colorful πŸ™‚

    Laura: Bullet points are always good! And as long as it works for you, that's the technique you should stick to! <3 And yesss, THE RAVEN KING is gonna be epic!

    Shari: I don't like tracked changes very much when I'm revising my own work. It's cool when other people leave them for me, though!

    Laura: I don't print out my manuscript, just the chapter outline! But I agree, looking at things on hard copy is much different and more revealing than looking on a computer!

    Connie: Yes, I totally agree. And I love colored post-it flags! I just got some new ones that will be put to use soon πŸ™‚

    David: Very true! Happy New Year! πŸ™‚

  17. DMS says:

    Julie- Wow! You are organized. I loved hearing about your revising/editing system. I can see how being away from the computer can really help you do what you need to do. I really like the colored sticky notes- and think the more use this system the easier it is to remember what each color is for in the process. I tend to print out the manuscript and reread making changes right on the draft, but I like the system you shared and may rethink mine a little because I think it would allow me to make a list of what I need to change.

    Thanks for sharing and best of luck!

  18. erinkbay says:

    Hi Julie!!! Loved reading this post on revisions!! I always love hearing about writers' processes, especially for revisions!! I also am very heavy on organizing and planning when doing revisions!! I haven't tried using stickies before, though, so I'll have to see how that works out next time!! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Thanks for writing this post!!!

  19. Brandon Ax says:

    I am reworking the way I revise. One of the biggest things is taking the first break away from my work.

    I really like the idea of getting physical with it. I used to write on paper for notes and all sorts of other things, now it is all on the computer. I am sort of in awe of your process, lol.

  20. Julie C. Dao says:

    Jess: I like the sticky notes because they are not permanent! You can move them around at will. Good luck revising!

    Erin: I hope the stickies work for you if you use them next time! Thanks for reading <3

    Brandon: Yeah, I think being hands-on helps me a lot!

Julie C. Dao