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More writing nuggets from James Scott Bell: First steps to revise your manuscript

If you’ve just finished NaNoWriMo, you’ve taken a deep breath and are now ready to dive into revisions. In a webinar Tuesday sponsored by Writer’s Digest, bestselling author James Scott Bell revealed his strategy for revising manuscripts. Here are some highlights from his presentation.

First, let your manuscript cool off. He lets his draft sit for several weeks, then he prints a hard copy. While you can read it on your computer, Bell says he likes to recreate the feeling the average reader will have when they pick up the book. It’s also easy to make notes on the pages as he goes.

As part of his process,  Bell asks himself, what would it feel like for a reader to read this book. Then he creates a cover page and adds a blurb about how spellbinding his book is. It’s his way of establishing in his mind that this is a real book.

Next, he reads through the manuscript as a reader would in a couple of sittings. As he reads, Bell makes notes using a form of shorthand.

These are the marks he uses:

Place a checkmark where the story drags. If something on the page isn’t compelling enough, dialogue is flat, make a check. Later you can delve into those sections and figure out how to fix them.

Place parentheses around sentences or paragraphs that don’t make sense. These might be metaphors that don’t quite work.

Draw a circle in the margin where material needs to be added or fleshed out. These are opportunities to put in stuff that will make the reading experience deeper.

Add a question mark to any area that seems out of place. This is an all-purpose mark for anything that doesn’t seem to fit.

For more tips from the webinar, read my post from yesterday, “Four writing nuggets from best-selling author James Scott Bell.” For even more details and revision ideas, read Bell’s latest book, Revision and Self Editing for Publication, 2nd edition, which will be released Dec. 1o. For more information about Bell and his other books, visit his website.

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