Update on the Novel Revision Course

This is some fascinating stuff. I’ve now gone through ALL the comments, questions, and problems folks describe having with revising their novels, and I’ve sorted out 146 unique issues that ARE revison-related and revision-critical, and 7 that aren’t.

Let me get the 7 “These Are Not Revision Problems” issues out of the way first.

1) Procrastination.
2) Getting motivated to do the revision.
3) Staying motivated all the way to the end of the revision.
4) Grammar and spelling mistakes. (BUT NOT STYLE)
5) Revising while writing first draft.
6) “Giving myself time to write in the first place.”
7) “Not finishing what I start.”

Numbers 1, 2, 3, and 6 are all motivation problems—exclusively. I deal with them in How To Motivate Yourself, and will not be dealing with them in How To Revise Your Novel.

Number 4 is a matter of getting a grasp on basic elements of the language. How To Revise Your Novel is the equivalent of renovating a house. Grammar and spelling are “How to Hold Your Hammer.” If you do not understand basic grammar (what is a predicate, what is a participle, what is a preposition, what is “person”, what is “number,” what is “tense,” etc.) get a copy of The Basic Glossary of Grammar, take a month, and do the whole course. It’ll set you back less than five bucks, and when you’re done you’ll know what you need to know to write fiction competently.

Grammar IS NOT style. We’ll be dealing heavily with style in How To Revise Your Novel. But grammar is to style what “how to hold a hammer” is to “how to dovetail joints and do seamless inlay on a parquet floor.”

As for spelling, there are a number of resources for adults. I’ve found three that look pretty good. Spelling It Right is free. Sequential Spelling for Adults is $14.95. And Personal Best Spelling runs $9.95-$60 AU depending on the way you decide to buy the program (printable page [no software], downloadable software or disc).

And 5 and 7—Revising while writing first draft, and not finishing work, are first-draft process problems, NOT revision problems. (Sometimes 7 can be a motivation problem, too. Generally, though, it’s process.) I deal with these two problems in How To Think Sideways, and will not be addressing them a second time in How To Revise Your Novel.

Why won’t I be hitting those seven problems in HTRYN?

Because not only will I be covering my complete start-to-finish in-depth revision process, but I’ll be demonstrating how to fix all 146 specific problems fought with by people struggling with revising their novels.

And here’s where it gets really fascinating.

There are three main stages of doing a successful novel revision.

The first stage is triage—the equivalent of checking the patient who enters the emergency room and going in order through the basic list of “Is his airway open? Okay, then is he breathing? All right, is his heart beating? Now…is all his blood staying in this body?…” and so on down a list.

Revising a novel has a similar triage process, and the majority of questions asked by writers indicates that most writers have no clue this stage of revision even exists, much less that it goes first.

That’s where we’re going to start. Triaging your novel.

The second main stage of revision is the equivalent of diagnosis and treatment. You’ve dealt with the major trauma, your patient is breathing (or at least you have a ventilator hooked up and you’re moving air in and out for him), he isn’t bleeding anymore, and now you have to figure out what’s going wrong in there and how to fix it.

Folks had LOTS of questions about the diagnosis and treatment stage, and those are what we’ll do second.

And then you have stage three—the equivalent of the cosmetic surgery stage. This is where you have your patient up and walking, breathing, not hemorrhaging, not suffering from pneumonia, broken bones all healed up, and she decides before she goes out into the world she wants a pert little nose and bigger boobs. Spiffy. We’ll do all that in stage three.

But going through all those many questions, something amazing became very clear to me.

The majority of folks are getting frustrated and desperate and miserable with their revisions because they’re trying to do a nose job on a patient who isn’t breathing and who is bleeding out—and they can’t figure out why the nose job isn’t helping.

And this is actually very cool, because if this is what’s going wrong for you, I can show you how to fix it.

I’ve now written most of the first lesson, have outlined the next six (the triage stage stuff), and am organizing all the “diagnosis and treatment” and “cosmetic surgery” info into a cohesive plan of attack.

The objective here is to have you attack and solve each problem you find only once, while not causing yourself other problems that you’ll then have to go back and fix, which then mess up fixes you’ve already done.

Odds are, if you’ve revised or started to revise your novel, you’ve experienced this problem. God knows, I did. I learned how NOT to do this, and I’ll make sure I show you how to avoid making things worse while trying to make them better.

Hence the cohesive plan.

There is no way I can cover everything you need and have asked in three months. However, I think I can get it in four.

I’m feverishly outlining the rest of the course, and when I have that done, I’ll select my two guinea pigs, er… victims, no, not right either… ah, test students, and the three of us will get started.

I’ll be putting the course together, and two of you will be asking questions, revising your books, having me go over your revisions with comments and questions, and making sure this process works for you and you come out of it understanding WHY as much as you know how..

And once I have about half the course finished and have a good idea of the time it’ll take the three of us to go through the rest, I’ll open the doors to everyone else. The initial class may be able to start in late November or early December—and I’ll plan the official opening for January.

So. That’s the plan and how it’s going. Any comments or questions?

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31 responses to “Update on the Novel Revision Course”

  1. LisaM Avatar

    I’m editing at the moment and it’s time-consuming (but satisfying) so learning how to revise in a timely manner, how to work through an ms in a logical manner and how to recognise what requires attention is just what I need. Can’t wait! πŸ™‚

  2. Roisin Avatar

    “The majority of folks are getting frustrated and desperate and miserable with their revisions because they’re trying to do a nose job on a patient who isn’t breathing and who is bleeding out.”

    This? Is me. After years of writing short fiction to take my dialogue/description/nuts-and-bolts skills from 0 to acceptable, I’m pretty good at nose jobs. But although I can look at my work and think, oops, my patient has some serious big-picture problems, I’m not sure what to do with a bleeding-out book, and the very effort seems as daunting as finishing a whole novel used to.

    Given how fantastic and fun HTTS has been, I’m in.

  3. John Avatar

    You’re going to put me in the poor house — I can’t stop reading your stuff πŸ˜‰ (no, really, keep it up!!)
    I’m trying to get through TS again before November, using the output for my Nano novel in November, and then look forward to the revision class in December…
    I guess if I just follow what I’ve learned from you, and then , I could get past the poorhouse issue, eh? Sooner or later, anyway πŸ˜‰

    Love your work! I love taking the courses, and reading your fiction and seeing it all in action. That’s a great way to teach (and learn!). Thanks a bunch.

  4. Pat Avatar

    This makes so much sense!

  5. HannaBelle Avatar

    Looking forward to it. I have a completed non-fiction book if you need one for testing the course.

  6. Debora Avatar

    Looking forward to this! Gives me an extra incentive to get that first draft finished, knowing I will have a gifted teacher waiting to help me through the revision. Thank you, thank you!

  7. Greg Avatar

    I’ll hopefully have plenty to revise in the new year if my current projects go to plan, so I might strategically mention the course to family around Christmas time!
    Look forward to hearing more about it as you make further progress, Holly.

  8. Anne Lyle Avatar

    Excellent news, Holly! I’m hoping to finish the re-draft of my novel via an “unofficial” NaNoWriMo, so I should be ready to sign up in December – and now I have even more incentive to hit that deadline πŸ™‚

    Hmm, better get caught up on “How to Think Sideways”…

  9. Red_dot Avatar

    Being an IT guy part of what I do is to build Helpdesk Techs. The hardest thing to teach a tech is trouble shooting. Well that and how not to act like a pompus ass to users. Part of being a tech is having the ability to trouble shoot which is kind of like triage. I study how other people trouble shoot to enhance how I trouble shoot. A doctor with the human body, an auto mechanic with a car and so on. Your 7 reasons why I can’t triage my book is good, but I was hoping to see 10 ways to tell if your book should be triaged. For real green writers such as me, we have the daunting task of looking at our mountain of words and trying to figure out where to start or should I even start. I will not grovel here for you to pick me. I already did that on your other post. I’ll just keep writing. 634 words almost at 23K, projected 18 chapters on chapter 7 almost half way.

    1. Holly Avatar


      There’s only one answer to “Should your book be triaged,” and that answer is yes. I learned more from doing the first revision of the first novel I wrote—the awful one that never sold—than I learned in my seven previous years of writing.

      Granted, I’m analytical as all hell, and I tore into it with every tool I could find from anyone who had a book out, and I kept notes on what worked and what didn’t… But if you’re revising the right way, you will be your own best teacher in how to write your next book better the first time through. There are some mistakes you’ll teach yourself never to make again.

      Never write a book you don’t revise at least once. Doing so, you’re missing the enormous opportunity of learning how not to make the same mistakes the next time around.

      And to that I’ll add this. Not all books can be saved. But all writers can be improved. A planned, analytical revision is the tool that will do that better than any other.

      Figure… my second novel sold the first time out to the first place I sent it, only one month after I mailed it out. I learned a LOT from that first revision.

      1. Red_dot Avatar

        Thank You Holly.

      2. Red_dot Avatar

        I forgot to tell you, I had to read the article twice. Being of the man-pig species, all I got out of it the first time was “bigger boobs”.

  10. Don Avatar

    Got the e-mail if your looking for test subjects count me in.

  11. Leah Avatar

    Cannot wait! Hoping to get back on track next week. These past two have been hellish–not in the sense of “sick”, like your’s, Holly, but beyond busy. Even when I tried to find time to write, it wasn’t there. So, I thought and pondered and mapped in my head instead.

  12. kittiewan Avatar

    146 issues!?! Sounds like it’ll be jam-packed with goodness. Can’t wait.

  13. Lisa R Avatar
    Lisa R

    Holly, I love the metaphor as well. I am even more motivated to finish my novel up by December so that I will be able to take the class in January. Thank you again for all the inspiration and tools to help us through our writing journey.

  14. Tori Avatar

    This sounds like something I’ll be needing…I guess I should start and finish my first draft though. If it’s going to be anything like Think Sideways it’ll defintely be worth taking.
    One question Holly- Do you have any idea how expensive this will be? Will it be about the same as Think Sideways, more or less? I am worried if I can afford it or not.

    1. Holly Avatar

      The monthly cost will be about what TS is, I think, but the course will run four months instead of six, so it will cost less.

  15. Yese Avatar

    Wow! I agree. The course sounds great! But I guess I need to finish my first novel before I take it, huh? πŸ™‚

    1. Holly Avatar

      Definitely finish the book. It doesn’t have to be great, you don’t have to be happy with it—but to do the course, you have to have made it all the way to the end.

  16. Leah Avatar

    Will the stages you teach us in How to Revise Your Novel work for all genre/category fiction? What about a non-fiction book?

    P.S. I’m going through How to Think Sideways for a third time; there’s just SO much information in there that I keep finding nuggets I missed the first two times.

    1. Holly Avatar

      This process works for ALL types of fiction, including short fiction, plays and screenplays, and multi-book fiction (trilogies, series, etc.), and all genres.

      The “triage” stage will be useful for non-fiction as well as fiction. Once you get into “diagnosis and treatment” and “cosmetic surgery,” fiction issues differ drastically from non-fiction issues, and while there will be some areas of overlap, it will be significantly less useful to the nonfiction writer than to the novelist.

  17. Neyska Avatar

    Looking forward to this course. I hope to be selected as a student, but since there are only two, I’ll take what I can get. Currently working on editing 3 novels and 1 novella as well as working out the plots for 3 other novel projects and planning the rewriting of yet another novel. Not sure how to get all this done in a lifetime, but hoping this course will help smooth out my editing process so I don’t feel so much like I’m shooting in the dark.

  18. meela Avatar

    Sweet! Love the metaphor! Since I am a home care nurse, your metaphor helps me see not only what questions I wouldn’t think to ask, but also how to visualize what I do want to know. Then I can frame the questions the right way. (gotta look for “triage” at work, now)

  19. V Avatar

    Do you still need beta-testers for this? I would *love* to have you look over my first book. It was being beta-read and revised while I finished the second. I set it aside when someone with an agent showed an interest in the second book.

    The third is coming along, but I would really like to get the first one out in front of people.

  20. Eddie Louise Avatar

    Course sounds really amazing Holly!

    Just a note – you have asked for a NaNo novelist (I am one), but like most people who have done NaNo once, I am hooked and will be doing it again.

    If you start the course in the last week of November, NaNos will have a hard time committing – this is crunch week!

    So, I respectfully request you lean toward the December start.

    That being said, I realize you are crazy busy yourself so if it needs to be November then November it is. I would still jump at the chance!


    1. Holly Avatar

      Like Think Sideways, it will be open enrollment. You’ll be able to sign up once you’ve finished NaNo, and recovered. πŸ˜€

      For my NaNo test student, I’m going to have to have someone who ISN’T doing NaNo this year, because I’m going to need a full commitment to the revision course.

      1. Eddie Louise Avatar

        So… I assume the selection process will happen before November then?

  21. Jamie D. Avatar

    Just a comment – WOW!

    I talked this over with my husband, and he agreed that it sounded like a good “next step” for me. Now, after reading this more detailed plan, I am absolutely stoked about the course…sounds like this is exactly what I’ve been looking *everywhere* for, and can’t seem to find. Thanks for putting so much thought and work into dissecting your process and sharing it with us!

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