Conventional wisdom says that after completing a first draft, you should lay it aside “to rest” before beginning any revisions on it — I’ve heard some experts recommend six to eight weeks!

Well, conventional wisdom (and those experts) must not work under a deadline.

And, to be honest, laying aside a first draft for weeks has never been my method, even before I had an agent and a contract and deadlines. By the time I type THE END on a first draft, I know all the things that are wrong with it, which may include:

  • Important information I never found a place to insert
  • Important information I inserted in several places, not sure which place would be best
  • Plot holes
  • Unnecessary side plots, characters, or clues I never ended up needing
  • Inconsistent details in setting or world building
  • Wavering character motivation
  • Pacing
  • Necessary character changes (In the first draft of The Caged Graves, the character of Beulah Poole started out as a teenage girl. I realized about two thirds of the way through the first draft that I needed her to be an old woman!)
Immediately after the first draft, I create a side-by-side outline to guide my second draft revisions. In one column, I list the important events in each chapter. In the other column, I note what changes I’ll need to make in that chapter. This sometimes will include rearranging or eliminating chapters.
Side by Side Outline for Draft 1-2 of The Eighth Day

In the case of The Caged Graves, a historical murder mystery, I also created an even briefer outline of the events in each chapter and color coded them: purple for the mystery of the graves, yellow for Verity’s romance, blue for the mystery of the Revolutionary War treasure. This helped me adjust the pacing and make sure that the main mystery remained in the forefront of the story, with the romance providing a counter-point and the secondary mystery appearing often enough to not be forgotten.

Color coded outline after Draft 1 of The Caged Graves

It only takes me a couple days to produce these outlines. Then I’m ready to roll right into the writing of my second draft.

When the second draft is complete, that’s when I send it out to beta readers and I take a break from the manuscript. Under my current deadline, it won’t be a six week break, of course. I only have ten weeks before this book is due, and I don’t want to turn in anything less than a fourth draft.
As for the revisions themselves, I start with Chapter One. I am a linear girl …