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Untangled: 7 Revision Tips

(Originally published November 11, 2015)

Happy National Novel Writing Month!

Me, I finished my first draft on November 2. (I started it about six months before that. 🙂 This first draft of mine is, of course, messy. And when I think of messy, I think of my daughter’s room. And specifically, her Rapunzel doll’s hair.


This is the actual state of poor Rapunzel’s hair, and unfortunately, it’s also representative of the current state of my first draft. So for those of you who are just beginning a revision, and those who will be in that spot December 1, here are seven things this poor Rapunzel doll can teach us about revising a first draft:

  1. Don’t pull out your fine-toothed comb first. Survey the whole thing, and start with the broadest teeth and the biggest problems.
  2. Once you’ve picked a section or a particular problem, recognize that fixing it will likely require many, many small strokes. Don’t be overwhelmed. Just start somewhere and work your way up.
  3. Don’t give up and throw it away! Don’t think, “I could start over with a new doll with shiny new hair!” Because let me tell you, friend, it won’t be long before that one has just as many tangles.
  4. If you’re too discouraged to take on the big stuff, that’s okay. Pick a section that you’re ready to work on and know that whatever knots you get out today won’t be there tomorrow. Sure, you may make new ones, sometimes involving those same blasted strands, but they will be new knots, and they too will come out.
  5. If you try to take on too big a tangle all at once, you’ll likely end up with a big bald spot. Don’t try to rip through a big problem too forcefully, especially when you’re frustrated with it. Except that…
  6. Sometimes this is exactly what your story needs, and hair plugs are the answer. Okay, the doll analogy falls apart a little there, but don’t be afraid to take out a chunk that just absolutely shouldn’t be there or can’t be fixed. You wrote this from scratch, and you can rewrite big chunks or even the whole thing if you need to.
  7. Product can make the whole process go more smoothly. For doll hair, it’s a mixture of fabric softener and water. (You’re welcome.) For writing, coffee and chocolate are perennial favorites, but for you, it might be Diet Coke or fingerless gloves or an exercise ball or an app like Write or Die. If there’s something small you can use to smooth out your process–or incentivize yourself to get the work done–go for it.

Revision is hard work. But keep at it, one tangle at a time, and soon you’ll be feeling like this:

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. Because right now, I’m off to brush and brush and brush and brush my hair. (Figuratively speaking. There’s way too much revision ahead to actually fix my hair today.)


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