Speed of revisions

One of my favourite parts of the writing process is the day I wrap up my first-pass revisions and get to send my manuscript off to my alpha readers and have my story read by someone else for the first time. And I got to do that last night! Stars is off with my first couple of readers and I’ll be eagerly awaiting their feedback.

A few posts ago I mentioned that I expected the revisions to take me a week. A couple of people expressed surprise that it took me so little time. It did actually come in at about that: I finished drafting on the 27th, spent the 28th and 29th reading it over without editing, and the 30th/1st just making notes and getting the file imported and set up in Scrivener. I started the actual hands-on work on the 2nd, and wrapped it up yesterday, the 6th. I spent probably 5-7+ hours per day working through it. Likely about 30 hours total.

A disclaimer, now: I’ve come to spend a lot of time during the drafting process considering what the scenes should be, what their purposes are, what needs to be shown and accomplished by each, where the plot is going, and (especially on this novel) how the characters are reacting, such that when I get to the end I don’t usually have to do a lot of large-scale fixing right away. I didn’t add or delete a single scene in my first-pass revisions of Stars (in my earlier novels I would always need to).

So mostly what I’m addressing with my first-pass revisions is smaller details. I mention a necklace here, I need to go back and insert it into the person’s description earlier. She shoots a gun here, I need to go show her picking it up earlier. She says she’s got this gig in Philly but the other characters are surprisingly accepting, I need to add a paragraph of proof or change their reactions to more skepticism (or both). Backstory details, strengthening motivations and reactions, clarifying worldbuilding, and of course double-checking my Chekhov’s guns – all that stuff is what I do here.

After my readers have come back to me with their feedback, that’s usually where the heavy lifting happens. The second-pass revisions are almost always my biggest, and unsurprisingly take me the longest. Feedback will say things like "I don’t think the main character is sufficiently upset about her situation given what happened" or "I felt that every time we encountered this character/went to this spot the story bogged down". And then I need to change the main character to show more distress throughout the next several scenes or even the whole book, or I need to decide whether to try to strengthen the boggy character or delete them altogether. (Not to mention the littler things that also get picked up on.)

That step can take a long time, if there’s lots to do. With Secrets I had both of those issues, plus a few others, and in fixing them I wrote about 30k new words, including entire scenes in a few spots. I deleted the boggy character and brought forward a background/bit character to fill that role instead. It was a lot of work. And it took me about three weeks of 4-6 hours per day. Probably about 100 hours.

I haven’t paid attention to how much time subsequent revisions take, but it’s probably closer to first-pass than second-pass. The big issues are hopefully mostly taken care of in that second set of revisions. Third and onward passes are making smaller tweaks and changes based on feedback from my beta readers, who see the stronger fixed-up second-pass version of the manuscript.

And now, having said all that, one more disclaimer: this is just me, and everyone works differently. How fast your own revisions take will vary depending on the state of your first draft, the strength of yourself and your readers in identifying weaknesses, and your own working speed, which includes how many hours per day you can put in to it. If you’re only able to spend one or two hours a day on it, you’re probably not going to wrap up your revisions in a week. :)

Next post, I thought I’d offer a quick glimpse of my revision process.


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