1) Make sure you’re in love.
I’m not a genius, my stories are not born lovely and perfect, their language strong, their plot lean and exciting. I have to work at it—a lot. And I don’t mind, because I enjoy editing. But I know there’s a big difference between revising a story I love and revising one I’m just fond of.
Perhaps this is obvious but to me the most important factor in ensuring successful revising is to be working on a piece that has legs or emotional resonance for you. If not, you’ll probably give up long before it’s in the best shape possible.
So what’s the key to knowing if it’s love or just infatuation? I once listed all of the stories, screenplays and plays I’d written—over 30—and looked at the themes, characters and plot, and I was able to see certain patterns. Not surprisingly, whenever I loved a story and its themes and characters, I ended up revising it enough that it was perfect—or as perfect as I could make it. And that story usually resonated with others.
2) Start from the beginning but don’t get stuck there.
We all know the first pages of a story or novel are critical, have to be sharp, enticing, fresh—generally amazing. These are the pages when a reader (agent, editor or final reader if you get that far) says either “Yes! I’m in” or the dreaded, “Ah, maybe not.”
Because the stakes are so high it can be tempting to stay on those first pages to the point of forgetting about the rest of the piece. Revising can become a sort of trap in which you start to judge the material so much that you never finish. It’s important to know when to move on so that you can get to the end and have a completed piece to revise.