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The Joy of Revising With Fresh Eyes

After finishing her novel's first draft, Olivia Kenney took a break to welcome her new baby. Six months later, she returned to revise her novel, finding joy in a fresh perspective.

By Olivia Kenney

June 27, 2024

In September 2023, I finished the first draft of my novel. I remember posing proudly on the porch with my white binder, fresh from FedEx printing, while my husband took a photo. It felt like I’d finished a marathon. And, at seven months pregnant, it felt like I was about to start another one. 

Writing a novel has been a long-held dream, and more than that, immensely energizing. I was eager to keep up the momentum, but with a new baby on the way, I knew there were going to be new demands on my attention—ones that might make it challenging to find time to revise my book. 

So, a few weeks after finishing my manuscript, I signed up for book inc’s 2024 Book Revision Lab. My goal was to create accountability for my future self to continue working on my manuscript during a year when it would be very easy and very reasonable to set it aside.

Once I had officially registered, I decided that I had checked my writing boxes for the year. I essentially told my current classmates, “Goodbye for now, see you in a few months!” and became much less active on our group chats and calls. New parent life, with its chaos and anxiety and joy, was calling. 

I stepped away from my manuscript in November and then December with barely a second thought as our new baby became the center of the world. And, after Christmas, my family decided to move back to Colorado after a few years away for school and work, thus adding a cross-country move to our collective plate. These changes consumed my attention, and allowing them to do so felt appropriate and good. My novel lingered somewhere in the back of my mind, but just barely. Once, a few days before Christmas, a friend read the draft and offered excellent feedback – and yet, I kept thinking, “Wait, who is that character? Is that someone in my book?” Between my new mom brain and a few months off, my story was drifting out of focus. 

Late one night just before New Year’s Day, I was standing in my old apartment, tired and shoulder-deep in moving boxes, holding dozens of clothes hangers and wondering, once again, “Should I pack these?” (If you’re wondering, the answer is always no. Never pack hangers. Spare yourself the headache and just buy new ones.) Then, something white and glossy caught my eye. There, poking out of a stacked box, peeking at me slyly, was my manuscript binder. 

I admit that it brought up a small wave of concern. Dread, even. I was going to have to read that thing, sooner or later. All the pride I’d felt at finishing it had slowly congealed into doubt. Was the draft even good? 

As long as the binder remained closed, the manuscript could exist forever in my mind as something perfect and complete, like a beautiful gem I could carry in my pocket. I had written it—a full novel with a plot arc and characters and sensory details—and that, in itself, was good.

But I knew that if I were to open it, to read the actual words and stare my own work in the face, it would become something more complicated. I would be forced to wrestle with the true quality of it. All its plot weaknesses and cheesy dialogue, all the things the characters did that didn’t quite track with their personalities. I knew that once I dove back in, the goalpost was going to shift: no longer just “done,” but instead, “good.”  

Early waves of obligation were starting to set in. Other people had read my manuscript, had treated it with kindness, and provided thoughtful feedback. I felt that I owed it to them, to my characters, and to myself to start revisions. But not quite yet, I decided. I shoved the binder deeper in the box. Best to get through the move first. 

Come February, the Book Revision Lab was in full swing, and I still had not cracked open the binder. Ignoring it was getting trickier. We had settled into our new home and navigated the all-consuming first months of our baby’s life, and I was feeling healthier. On top of that, I now only had a few weeks to revise my manuscript before circulating it to my new group members for feedback. So, after much internal kicking and screaming, I did it. I opened the binder and started reading.

And you know what? It wasn’t terrible. 

It wasn’t perfect, or even great. But it really wasn’t terrible. I was truly surprised by how easy it was to look at my manuscript objectively, with the distance of nearly six months, as if I was reviewing the work of a dear friend.

I read it cover to cover, and in doing so, I easily spotted plot holes and points of confusion. Whereas things had been muddled during the drafting process when I was scrolling back and forth between chapters on my computer, seeing them in print was immensely clarifying. I filled the margins with comments. I flagged the cringe-y dialogue, posed questions to myself, and noted places to add deeper world building and setting descriptions. I indulged in an elaborate, color-coded sticky note system that turned the whole thing into a game. In short, I found the re-read fun. 

Waiting six months after finishing the draft before revisiting it, I believe, gave me more objectivity, more curiosity, and more playfulness. It was a treat to re-discover all of the lives I had created in my own book. Sure, I had a general recollection of the characters and where they were headed, but there were entire scenes that caught me by surprise. Had I really written this? Had I actually thought up all of that backstory, the way this character moved her hair, or how that one thought about his boss? 

I am not sure what the perfect amount of time is to wait between completing a manuscript and starting revisions. As in much of writing, “perfect” may not be the right benchmark. But in my experience, revisiting my writing with fresh eyes after a healthy pause – whether or not that pause includes major life events – was a recipe for more joy. 

Olivia Kenney

Olivia Kenney is a book inc writer working on her first novel. As a public health researcher who has lived in five states and overseas, Olivia writes speculative fiction that explores themes of travel, climate change, and systems that create the most good for the most people.

Olivia Kenney is a book inc writer working on her first novel. As a public health researcher who has lived in five states and overseas, Olivia writes speculative fiction that explores themes of travel, climate change, and systems that create the most good for the most people.