Stuck in Revision Purgatory: 5 Steps to Get Your Novel Rolling Again

You’ve finished that marathon draft of your work in progress. Now comes the editing slog.

You know the areas that need work, but staring at the document flummoxes you. Overthinking sets in. Resistance creeps up. Suddenly, that whole passionate work of possibility seems…impossible.

I recently found myself in revision purgatory after launching into content edits for my novel’s opening with high hopes. But doubt and uncertainty arose, and I resigned myself to the reality that certain key scenes required massive revision.

I got stuck in the mire of envisioning the huge changes ahead. Then I decided to overhaul my approach and tackle edits in small, doable chunks instead of getting overwhelmed by the scope of revisions needed.

person standing on dock with water
Photo by Tyler Lastovich on

Here are 5 micro-steps that helped me escape revision purgatory:

1. Rewrite one scene from scratch rather than obsessing over existing pages.

Starting a scene over from a blank page allows you to reimagine key moments without over-attachment to previous drafts. This frees you up creatively. You may rediscover the heart of a scene. Approaching it freshly also gives perspective on what’s not working currently and how to fix it.

2. Focus solely on punching up the first and last paragraphs of each chapter. Do they effectively propel readers onward?

Honing chapter openings and endings makes a big difference. Strong openings immerse readers, grounding them in setting and mood. Satisfying closings create that page-turning effect of “just one more chapter” that we are all hoping for.

I’ll admit, this type of edit used to overwhelm me. I spent time noticing the way novelists’ ended their chapters. Some always had a perfect cliffhanger line. Others liked to end with dialogue. My favorites has a handful of techniques they used to create punchy chapters endings, which they deployed throughout the book. This is what I liked. What do you like? Come up with a few techniques that you appreciate, then find ways to adapt them to your own writing.

If you need help implementing this tip, check out my favorite writing craft books!

3. Search and eliminate repeated words, excessive adverbs or unnecessary descriptors bogging down sentences.

Overreliance on certain words distracts from your unique writerly voice. Trimming the fat tightens your prose, enhances flow and showcases crisp writing and mastery of language. Doing a quick word search to delete overused terms provides mental clarity to better convey precise meaning. This big list of crutch words will help you get started!

4. Replace vague, generic nouns and verbs with precise imagery to evoke specific sensations.

Vague language makes the writing feel generic. But specificity and vivid sensory details transport readers firmly into your narrative world. For example, do the characters visit a restaurant, a Thai restaurant, the Siam Orchid Thai restaurant, or Siam Orchid, a hole-in-the-wall Thai place with the best khao soi in town?

Go through chapter by chapter, looking for vague descriptions that can be punched up.

5. Shorten unwieldy sentences and paragraphs to improve flow and readability.

We all have a natural pace that we default to. I prefer long sentences with fairly short paragraphs. Other writers like short, snappy sentences or paragraphs that stretch on for pages. Regardless of our personal preferences, it’s important to vary the pace for the reader’s experience.

If your text looks like an impenetrable wall, it’s time to chop those paragraphs into short ones. Provide a nice, meaty paragraph break or white space to give their eyes a break! Ditto for long sentences. As much as I love them, they grow tiring. Mix in a few short sentences and your prose will read better.

woman reading a book beside the window
Photo by Rahul Shah on

Thanks for reading! It means a lot to me.

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