Hewson on Revision

I’ve started trying to use Scrivener in earnest (more later), and along the way I’ve picked up a couple of books by David Hewson ( on using Scrivener, as well as others)… His is also one of my pseudo-regular sites that I visit…

I’m dropping this reference here, probably more for me to be able to refer to in the future, but for other writers out there that might be finding this through random tangents, here’s a talk on revision that he is prepping for this year’s [2012] Thrillercon.

A couple of things that stick out as good nuggest, at least from an initial skimming:

When you finish a raw MS you will be able to improve it a finite number of times before your imagination gags at the thought of taking another turn at the windmill. Read the piece three times and you should be able to make it better. Extend that to, say, five and the law of diminishing returns will kick in; you’ll find nothing to change. Be foolish enough to read the thing eight times or so and you will become convinced you’ve turned out the biggest piece of crap since the invention of the alphabet. Which may be true. You just won’t be able to make a considered judgement about that.

He then presents his approach, which to a certain degree I find myself agreeing with, for proofing/editing/revising a project. Basically, a three step pass which breaks down to: 1) Line Edits, 2) “Editorial”, then 3) “Reader”.

His explanation is simple:
Line Edits –

I want to get the little things out of the way first… What am I looking for? Spelling, punctuation, ugly sentence structure, sentences that can be shortened or broken up. This is a cleaning exercise. I want to get rid of all the cruft, anything that can be taken out without causing any problems. Oh, and repetition.

My take: There’s bound to still be a few things that will be missed, or new kinks that crop up during the “Editorial” phase, but by getting many of the niggling little things done, it becomes an issue of addressing any additions made as you go. (Hewson himself admits that he reviews work done the day before, so much of this, depending on individual habits, could be done during either during the first draft, or right after creating the addition.)


In the last revise we looked for little things. In this one I’m chasing big game. Do the characters feel right? Are physical descriptions consistent? Do they say too much or too little? Can I see, hear and smell the locations? Are there events in the narrative that feel a bit clunky? … What I’m dealing with is excision and insertion.

And he does this by taking pen to hardcopy – printed pages – before taking them back to the screen.

Then finally, the “Reader”:

What am I looking for in this revise? In short: to be entertained. I want to know if the book reads the way I want it to. Whether there are still passages that can be cut. If it feels right. Yes, I’ll spot a few typos and clunky sentences still, and they will be marked. But it’s the feel of the thing I’m looking for. Does it work? … Then I’m through with the book as a personal project…  it’s now at a stage where I can add nothing more to it without outside intervention.

Here’s why it struck me, and why I want to share (and mark it for my own future reference)… I start an MFA program in just over a month, with the end goal of having a novel (theoretically) ready for market by the time I graduate. As part of that process, there are “Term Writing Projects” each semester – marking about 60-100 pages per semester, broken up with a deadline each month [for workshopping as we go, around each deadline]. This is a process that I will likely be going through a lot over the next couple of years, and it’s a state of mind I’ll need to get used to, and I’ll need to make sure I give myself plenty of time to be able to at least rough pass (Steps 1 & 2) the sections before each deadline.

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