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(Author Toolbox Blog Hop) The 3-Step Revision Formula: Mystery Solved!

Many, if not most writers probably experience the same sense of dread when they type those two little words at the commencement of their first draft: The End. Uh oh. Time to let those shiny-new-story butterflies die. Now you're in the pit of despair, better known as the revision stage.

When I began writing my first novel, the concept of self-editing was a complete mystery. My research told me that while one author would self-edit seven or eight different times, another author could be done after a second draft. Some would rewrite the entire thing over and over, while others could get by with bits and pieces. Books that I found on revision told me what to edit, but not how many times I could expect to repeat the process. I started to wonder if self-editing was completely subjective.

The first novel I wrote was definitely my experimental phase. I remember thinking back when I wrote my second draft how much better it was, only I had ended up editing out half of my book! The result was a meager 35,000 words. I'd have to revise once more to bulk it back up.

On and on I went, cutting and adding back in, revising my outline, and redrafting what always managed to feel like the first draft yet again. I told myself it was perfectionism, but each draft left me only further away from the story I had envisioned. Eventually, I had to throw in the towel. My self-editing process was not making my novel the best it could be. If anything, I was as confused with myself as I was with my story.

Flash forward to my second and current novel and I'm happy to report that after years of scratching my head, I have finally found my revision formula!


That's how many drafts I need to make my novel work, at least, to get it into the hands of someone else. When I compared this number to a certain anatomy analogy, it made so much sense!

Your first draft is all about the bones. You can also think of it like the foundation of a house. You're pulling together the basic elements of the story. Of course, I've found from my experience that a lackluster outline may inhibit you from your best first draft and you'll be much further ahead if you research basic fundamentals on plot and structure, but the most important aspect of this stage is that you get the basic spark of your idea on the page.

For writing resources to help with your rough draft, check out my recommendations.

Your second draft is the muscle. You'll want to start with a read-through of your cringey rough draft. And that's perfectly okay if you cringe at this stage. This is the time to revisit the outline (if you used one), look at the plot threads (major and minor) and look for consistency in theme. Do all the scenes serve a purpose? Are you injecting enough conflict? Is it clear what the protagonist's motivations are? At the end of this first revision of your rough draft, you should feel like your story is cohesive and understandable. You don't have any subplots that dwindle off into nothingness and your reader can understand the theme. That being said, the novel is by no means perfect and you certainly wouldn't dream of submitting to an agent. That brings me to...

Your third draft is the skin. Time for another read-through! This time you should find yourself enjoying a lot more of your scenes. The cringe factor has plummeted, though you may still find scenes or characters that don't resonate with you. Take thorough notes of every place in the novel that doesn't flow naturally. Put all those notes into a revision plan and do some brainstorming to determine if you need to make cuts or rewrite those scenes/characters. You definitely should not be reworking the structure of the novel at this point. That is, unless you want to repeat the "muscles" phase. My favorite part of the skin phase is injecting or building on those pretty, poetic snippets of prose that I can envision on an Instagram post.

It may still not be perfect, and you may end up with several smaller revisions after beta reader and editor feedback, but if you've done the proper analysis through each of these phases, you should have a solid novel under your belt.

I hope this 3-step revision formula is as helpful to you as it has been to me. Because I tend to be a more visually oriented person, the analogy of the bones-muscle-skin phases really helped me understand what I was developing during each of these three phases and not put so much pressure on myself. I've also found that it's eased some of my perfectionism, which has helped me feel more confident requesting feedback.

For more on perfectionism, check out my previous post on Why Perfectionism Is Killing Your Writing.

That's all for this month! Thank you so much for checking out my blog and go see what other bloggers are posting for this month's Author Toolbox Blog Hop!


  1. I like your analogy of bones, muscle, skin too. It's going to be very helpful when I read through all the phases without cringing while thinking about these stages. Can't and shouldn't expect a perfectly finished novel to emerge whole in the first draft. Thanks for visiting my blog.

    1. Thank you! Yes, I totally agree. It's really helped me manage some of my less than realistic expectations when I'm working.

  2. I love that you can get most of it done in three drafts. I haven't quite got it done to that few yet. I guess it many edits before such and such a stage, how many after.

    1. Thanks! I think this formula works for me because I'm such a planner and don't like to dive into drafting until I've figured out all the details. I'm sure there will always be exceptions in future projects. I'm also looking at these stages as more of a pre-releasing-your-book-into-the-hands-of-someone-else phase, which is mostly where I've been until now. :)

  3. I forgot to ask, would you mind shooting me an email if you received my email reminder this month. I'm trying to make sure my monthly reminder emails are hitting everyone's inboxes. Thanks!

  4. Oooh! I loved this. Perfect way to explain things.

  5. That's a great way to look at it, Christy. As I think back on mine, it's how they work. I'm on the muscle right now in my current WIP.

    1. Thank you, I appreciate that. I love hearing when my writing process aligns with other writers. It definitely gives me a confidence boost that I'm on the right track. :)

  6. Excellent advice. I used to dread editing but now it's my favorite part of writing. Getting that first draft done is my challenge.
    Susan Says

    1. Thank you so much. I definitely can see what you mean. There is something so deeply satisfying about seeing your words growing and getting better with every edit.

  7. Great analogy :)
    I think I've realised my problem, I write half a first draft then try to skip straight to the muscles stage. I need to finish the bones properly, and to do that I need to learn to outline better!

    1. I know exactly where you're coming from because I've been there! :) A solid outline made a tremendous difference for me, but I suppose even if you're more of a pantser then it's just about putting the time into the rough draft to lay the foundation. Thanks for reading!

  8. Three is what I've settled in the twelve years since my first book was published. I'm getting better with my first drafts making the second and third easier.


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