11 Ways To See Your Writing In A New Light

revise your writing by seeing it in a new perspective

Whether you’re ready to revise your writing or struggling with your first draft, these exercises can help you get a fresh perspective.

As you close in on finishing the first draft or are set to begin revising your book, it’s not uncommon to have the sparks stop flying and the momentum drag. Perhaps you could use something to jump start your progress towards the home stretch — some way to alter your perspective and help you take a fresh or deeper look at your material.

One way forward is to get dependable beta readers to give feedback. If you can’t do that, or you’re not ready to share, you need to do something to trick your mind into looking at the material as “new.” Something to sweep away the blindness of being too close to the content and help you see your work as a reader will.

Why not try one or more of these 11 ideas below and take a systematic approach to evaluating your book? Do your best to experience your book as a reader would and rekindle your creativity in the process.

1. Read your story out loud

It is surprising how much it helps to speak your story aloud. You’ll add emotion. You’ll stress certain things and drop others. You’ll start to feel the pace of your book. You might even pick up new twists to the story, remember details you have to add, or identify gaps. If there is no one around, read it to yourself, or record yourself. Rehearse and rehearse. You might be surprised what pops out of your mouth that had never occurred to your fingers when you were writing.

2. Play your story in your mind as a movie

How would your book translate to the screen? When you visualize each scene, you have to place it in a real environment. You might find some flat sections that lack pace. You might begin to see your characters so vividly, you see new or better scenes to add.

If you had to paint 10 scenes from your book, which would they be? Which photographs would you take? Which scenes would you want a professional artist to render for you?

Why are you picking those images? What do they mean? Are they spread evenly throughout the book or do they come in patches? What does the collection of images say about your book? Are they all faces of characters? Are they the climactic moments or scenes of special importance? Are they deeply emotional moments felt by one or more of your characters? Are they of objects of symbolic or practical importance?

Readers form images in their minds while reading books. What will your readers be thinking?

3. Study the opening and closing of each chapter

Writers often get lost in the details. The opening and ending of each chapter should be as strong as the beginning and conclusion of the whole book. Checking each chapter ending for how it relates to the opening of the next is important. On a micro level, you can look at the end and opening of each paragraph. As you do this, look to adjust the weight of each sentence so it has more impact.

4. Summarize each section and chapter (as well as the entire book)

Go through your chapters and write down what each paragraph is about. Do this quickly. Circle or mark the best parts of each paragraph. Are your circles sparse or so dense you can’t see what you wrote? You are writing out the story in shorthand so you can check the higher order patterns. In all likelihood, you’ll see new arcs.

You are also checking that each paragraph says something new. If you can’t quickly figure out what the paragraph is about, delete it. If you essentially say the same thing in more than one paragraph, pick the best and delete the rest. Often, you will find a paragraph that contains more than one idea. This probably means you should split it into two paragraphs, as great paragraphs are focused on one topic.

5. Draft an outline

If you didn’t start with an outline for your book, try to make one now. Hopefully, you’re such a good writer that it jumps out at you. Having a solid outline means you have a logical, well-thought out book. If you have a fast-paced story that has all its parts in place, this will be very easy to do. If you started from an outline, start from scratch to see if anything has changed. Few writers stick to an original outline, and it will be insightful to see where you deviated and think about why.

6. Decide what you think your reader will remember most

Sit by yourself somewhere different from where you usually write and mark down the most memorable moments of your book. What you do think a reader will take with them? What do you want them to take away from the book? The best books contain something that a reader can remember for a year, a decade, or even a lifetime. What are your points? Do you make them clearly? Write down all your best scenes in rank order. They should come spilling out of you if you are close to done and your book has true substance.

If you have to think too long or no scenes stand out as favorites, you have more work to do. You should be dying to get these scenes in front of readers because you know they are so good. If a few pop out, great! Think hard about why you like those so much and try to edit the rest of the book to meet that gold standard.

In a related vein, think about which passages you would pick for a book reading and why. If you don’t have a bunch to chose from, your book isn’t ready.

7. Check your book’s emotional cues

This is like making an emotional map of the book, or an outline based on feelings. Think about how you expect the reader to feel at each part of your book. What trajectories do you send them on? How well have you paved the way for them? Are there clear road signs? Go through the book and make a note of whether the reader should feel happy, sad, lost, etc. Write down what they should think about each of your characters and any of the actions. Should they be rooting for this character and hating another because you are going to kill him off in the next chapter?

Look to make the peaks and twists of the story more riveting. If a married character is going to reveal she’s having an affair, make sure the reader thinks she is happily married just up to the point of the reveal.

8. Change your ending

This is not about changing your story, or throwing your ending away and starting over. It’s about solidifying your current story by comparing it against other possible endings. Get a piece of paper and write down at least 10 alternative endings for your book. It’s just a thought experiment. Do more if you can. The more outlandish the ending the better. Then evaluate them against the one you have. Try to figure out what you would need to change in your current version of the story to make each ending work. This will give you a new view of everything from your characters, to their environment, to the action.

9. Remove each chapter, one by one

If you remove a chapter, what happens to the rest of the plot? Does it break the story? If it does, that’s good, it means it contains essential information for the plot. If it doesn’t, you should seriously consider dropping the chapter. You can repeat this for subsections, or even for paragraphs, although it can be harder to decide at that level of detail. You can also repeat this for each character. Is the presence of each one justified in terms of the plot?

In another twist on this, flip each chapter. Especially see what happens if you flip chapter two for chapter one. Do you get rid of unnecessary back story and let the action rip? What happens when you flip other chapters? If they are in correct order, and all needed, you shouldn’t be able to flip any of them without major disruptions (there could be some exceptions).

10. Write something different

This might not help you directly, but it will refresh your mind. If you chose to write in a very different style, it might just awaken new skills or get certain things out of your system. Then, come back to the book and you’ll be able to look at it more objectively. Irrelevant details will fade to the background and you’ll see the chaff more easily. The themes and action points will gel.

11. Read it backwards

With the ending in mind, go through the book from the start and ask how each chapter (or section, paragraph, character) helps to get you to that ending. If you can’t tell how it does, it is extra to the story and should be removed.

Then start at the end of the book and tell the story backwards. If the ending is “Z,” it should come about because of previous circumstances (“Y”) that hinge on “X,” that are only possible because of “W,” and so forth to “A,” the first action in the chronological timeline of the book. Are you compelled backwards at each point or do you have to search for the link? A great plot will be like a chain  —  all the links will be tightly bound together. Of course, often the more surprising and unusual the links, the better, but they also need to be believable.

Dawn FieldDawn Field (July 20, 1969 – May 2, 2020)
In late 2015, Dawn Field submitted this post to the BookBaby Blog. While many unsolicited submissions don’t quite meet the needs (or standards) of our readers, something about this stood out. I posted the article, and to my grateful amazement, that initial contribution flourished into a five-year collaboration resulting in over 100 posts published here. Sadly, on May 2nd, 2020, Dr. Field suddenly and tragically passed away at the age of 50. In an effort to bring some of her work back into the conversation, and with the permission of her family, we will be re-publishing some of Dr. Field’s posts in the coming months so a new generation of BookBaby Blog readers can experience and learn from her commitment to share what she was learning on her own journey as a writer.

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