blue door with peeling paint re-entering your book for revision
At some point, you have to go back in.

Have you finished a draft of your book? 

PHEW! That’s a lot. Maybe you dashed it off within a couple of months, or maybe it took a little longer…or maybe even a lot longer. But the important thing is YOU FINISHED! So let’s talk about what comes next.

How to Re-Enter Your Book for Revision

First Things First: CELEBRATE!

It is a really big deal to finish a book-length project. It’s sometimes said that 80% of people think they have a book in them, but most won’t write it. And you did! That’s something to be truly proud of and it’s important to take the time to celebrate.

Answer this seriously now: how will you mark this important milestone in your writing life?

Some of my students in the First Book Finish program have shared some wine or champagne with a partner or friends…others have bought a new pen, new journal or new pair of earrings to mark the occasion. However you decide the celebrate, be sure to stop and be proud of yourself for reaching this stage. 

I’m celebrating with you: YAY YOU!

Take a Wee Break

This may be unexpected as a “next step” but I believe that once you finish a draft of your book, you should take a wee break. Put some time and distance between you and your work-in-progress so that you can come back to it with a fresh perspective.

How long should your break be? There’s not a specific answer to this… long enough to feel refreshed but not so long that you begin to avoid returning to your manuscript to start your revision. 

For some people that will be two weeks, for some a month or more. I wouldn’t advise much longer than a month so that you don’t lose the precious thread of connection between you and your material.

I usually give myself a set deadline to end my break. If you’ve been “on a break” and need to return to the book to revise and edit it after a completed draft, I recommend setting a firm deadline for when you’ll begin the revision process.

Common Emotions Around Revision

If you’ve waited a little longer than you planned, it could be because you’re experiencing some creative anxiety. You’ll know this is the case if you’ve wanted to start revising your book but find yourself putting it off, or even avoiding your writing sessions altogether.

This is all completely normal. The vast majority of writers will slide into the ending of a first draft and then fairly immediately experience a range of emotions…

First: giddy relief and some pride at making it to The End. Followed quickly by:

Overwhelm and fear.

We see the draft we’ve finished and can see all of its holes, gaps and weaknesses. We were able to finish the draft by telling ourselves – in the immortal words of Terry Pratchett – that “The first draft is just telling yourself the story,” or listening to Anne Lamott’s advice from her book Bird by Bird to just jot down a shitty first draft.

But now that we’ve finished our shitty first draft, we’re suddenly aware of the stench.

The book needs restructuring, it needs work on character development, it needs consistency across multiple aspects of craft and WOW, suddenly that all feels like a lot. The draft we were so proud to finish feels like a hot mess and in thinking about it, we can become a bit of a hot mess ourselves.

If you’ve experienced any of this, then it’s not surprising that perhaps you’ve been avoiding your manuscript for a while once the first draft was finished.

How to Re-Enter Your Book for Revision

Once you’ve set a date to dive back into your book to start the revision process, you can plan a path forward.

[STOP HERE: You have set a deadline for starting your revision, right? If not, do it right now! Put it in your calendar and set up a reminder on your smartphone.]

Prior to your revision start date, spend some time in the world of your book. If you’re writing a poetry book, read more poetry; dive into several memoirs or novels you’ve heard of that sound interesting and potentially have thematic links to your own book OR some interesting structural lessons you can learn from.

If you’re writing a book based in a different part of the world, watch movies, TV shows and documentaries based in the same country or region. If you’re writing a historical novel, watch shows that are based in the same time period. Look up podcasts that cover issues related to your book’s topic or setting.

You’re essentially looking to rekindle the connection between you and your book and to reawaken your obsession with your material.

Remember Your Why

Prior to diving back into your book, I recommend a journaling exercise to help you reconnect with why it matters to you that you revise, edit and ultimately publish your book.

We all write for different reasons and it’s those reasons that will keep us going when the going gets rough, if those reasons are strong enough and we centralize them in our thinking.

Here are some journaling prompts to guide you:

  • What is it you have to say and what outcome are you hoping for once your book is published? Who is your Ideal Reader and what is it your book will offer them? 
  • Why does it matter to you personally that your book is finished?
  • What personal qualities will you have developed in the process of getting your book completed and out into the world?
  • What might you learn as you revise your book? How might you be different as a writer when it is published?
  • Imagine your life ten or twenty years from now…what might publishing your book change for you?

Ready, Set, Revise!

It’s time. Time to make a plan for how you’ll approach your revision and then dive in to start. 

Breaking things down step-by-step so that tasks feel basic and doable – one issue at a time, one scene at a time – is the way to take the overwhelm out of revision.

Take a couple of hours to outline exactly what tasks you need to complete in order to finalize your revision. Then when you have this plan, begin your revision with your next writing session.

To recap, here are your steps to re-enter your manuscript after a break as you prepare to revise:

  1. Celebrate your first draft!
  2. Take a wee break!
  3. Set a deadline date for when you’ll begin revising your book.
  4. Rekindle the connection with your manuscript by immersing yourself in reading or shows/podcasts related to your book.
  5. Journal to reconnect with WHY revising, editing and publishing your book matters.
  6. Make a step-by-step revision plan and dive in!

Happy Revising!

How to Re-Enter Your Book for Revision