Once you get your marked-up manuscript and notes back from your editor, you may be inspired and enter a period of incredibly productive and rewarding rewriting—or you may be completely overwhelmed. Worrying too much about where to begin can cause the kind of “writer’s block” that puts your book on hold indefinitely. Instead, try assessing, dividing, and subdividing your goals. Often, just giving yourself permission to work off of a plan, in an orderly fashion, will free up your mind to proceed with the revision in the joyfully disorderly fashion we associate with creativity and inspiration.
1. Give yourself a breather. If you find your editor’s comments and suggestions overwhelming, set them aside for a few days and give yourself the time and distance to get used to the idea of working with criticism. It also helps if you get input from multiple editors and/or writing group members; this way, you can assess what consensus there seems to be about your book, and better come to terms with what rings true for you, what may be true but difficult to accept, and what just doesn’t sit right.
2. List your goals thematically. Try separating criticisms and revision suggestions and ideas by their underlying themes; for example, you may come up with such various points as: filling in peripheral characters, cutting extraneous dialogue, articulating regret and bitterness, emphasizing spaces, toning down rural diction, etc. This will give you a clearer idea of what your priorities should be, and should help you identify and coax out your manuscript’s key characteristics.
3. Draw up a scene-by-scene plan. Once you have your concerns separated by theme, write yourself a detailed plan laying out what scenes or passages need to be expanded, altered, or rewritten to address each concern.
4. Just go with it. If, as you begin your orderly revision, you find the desire to deviate from the plan or even throw it out altogether, don’t dismiss that feeling, as long as it comes from excitement and not fear of failure. Revision is part of the writing process itself—so let yourself have fun with it.