Brave the Page, our NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available to order! Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, this is our go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Check out this Brave the Page excerpt on revision from bestselling author Scott Westerfeld:
At the end of drafting a novel, I’m usually in need of a laugh, so I return to the very first pages I wrote. It’s like looking at photos of myself in middle school: How innocent I was back then! How badly dressed! But what I’ve gained since those early days isn’t so much wisdom (or a better haircut) but perspective. I can see now where things were headed.
Alas, when looking at old pictures, you can’t go back and give yourself advice. But with first drafts you can! In that moment before revising begins, you’re no longer stuck in the hurly-burly of “What happens next?” and “What’s this character’s motivation?” You have perspective.
So here’s a suggestion: the first day of a revision is the perfect time to outline your novel again. Perhaps we should call it re-outlining, or simply stepping back.
It’s tempting to start just rewriting Chapter One. But set that aside for a moment and make yourself a map, a big-picture view of how the pieces of your novel fit together.
You probably have your old outline. Put that aside, and look at what you wound up actually writing. A complete draft has its own logic. (If it doesn’t, maybe you’re still drafting.) Clear away those youthful hopes and dreams and look back at where you went wrong.
A lot of rewriting—like a lot of growing up—is simply admitting how clueless you were not so long ago. (Which is why some people never rewrite, and why some people never grow up.)
So start your revision by answering these questions: Which scenes work, and which are clunky? Which characters never took off, and which turned out to be unexpectedly compelling? Which goals that you started with aren’t worth pursuing anymore? And what startling new vistas opened up?
In other words, what do you know now that you didn’t know then?
Realize how little you knew when you started, appreciate how much smarter you’ve become, and accept what innocence you’ve lost. Then make decisions accordingly, even if that means throwing away the obsessions of your younger self.
To throw one more analogy at you, a novel is like a cloud. When you’re in the thick of it, its shape is unknowable. But once you’ve passed through and gained a little distance, it’s much easier to see.
Make sure you take a picture before you dive back in.
Scott Westerfeld is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Uglies series, which has been translated into 35 languages; the Leviathan series; Afterworlds; Horizon; and many other books for young readers. He was born in Texas and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.