The revision process

Also on my post about revisions Heather commented that she had a finished the first draft of her first novel but was procrastinating about revisions because they were a bit intimidating.

Oh, how I know that feeling! The very first novel I wrote was competent word-wise and told a passable story, but had so many weaknesses that I didn’t even consider revising. I’d already got an idea for a second novel, and I didn’t love the story of the first enough to want to face the intimidating thought of revisions head-on. That happened with novel number two, too. Too many weaknesses, not enough love. I only found enough love to stand up to revisions in my third novel, Magestone. It helped that by the time I got to Magestone I’d learned a bit more about the craft and there were fewer weaknesses to have to tackle.

But if you love your novel and want to face down revisions to make it sparkle, it turns out it’s not actually as daunting as it seems from the outside. Certainly it’s no more daunting, and possibly actually less daunting, than the writing of an entire novel in the first place – and you did that, didn’t you?

So while everyone’s process is different, and you have to experiment and find out what works for you, I thought I’d share my own. Then you can go check out Veronica Roth’s or Beth Revis’ or Marissa Meyer’s (and I’m sure you can google many others). Also swing by and read NaNoWriMo’s I Wrote A Novel, Now What? post, which includes revision tips from 7 published authors who started out as NaNo-ers.

While my approach has been evolving a little with every revision, this is essentially what I’ve done each time:

1. Re-read entire draft in as few days/sittings as possible. After working on it for two months, at a snail’s pace (compared to how quickly I can read), I need to remind myself of what the story looks like as a whole.

2. As I’m reading, keep a notebook where I jot down notes on changes that need to be made or issues that should be addressed. “Mention this earlier” or “What happened to ___?” or “She should be feeling more ___ here.”

3. I made a list in my notebook of chapter numbers and jotted a few words describing each chapter. Then I took a couple of days and just mulled over what I’d read, referring to the list of chapters now and then to remind myself of the plot. If I realized something that was missing or needed to be addressed I’d make a note of it in the list from 2). If there was a particular element that I was feeling uncertain about (as in I felt like asking my critique partners “do you think y is okay?”) I also made a note of it… My uncertainty about it probably means it should be changed or removed.

4. I draft in Word, but revise in Scrivener. While I’m doing 3) I import the Word document into Scrivener and break it into its individual units. In the case of Stars, each chapter was its own unit because most were just a single scene. In the case of Secrets most chapters had multiple scenes, so I made the scene the unit and lumped them together into folders for each chapter. This makes it much easier to skip around the document and find different locations. Also, I like having those distinct chunks to measure my progress by and set my daily goals with.

5. After mulling for a few days I sit down to begin the actual work of making the changes. I keep my notebook by my side. Then I open up Scrivener, go to the first chapter/unit, and start at the very beginning. I read through it start-to-finish, and I read through every chapter and scene even if I don’t have any notes for a particular one. I make sure I end a session of revisions at the end of a unit, if I can.

6. As I go, I make small changes to wording if something jumps out at me as awkward or confusing. And when I get to a spot where I noted I needed a change, I make the change. Then I carry on. Sometimes as I’m reading this second time I notice something else that needs addressing, and I add this to the list from 2).

7. I have a separate folder for deleted scenes and deleted snippets. If I need to re-do a scene I move it into that folder and create a new unit in its place and start writing – but only when I get there as I’m going from 6) because then I’m in the flow of the story. If I need to just rewrite a section of the scene I copy&paste that section into its own unit in the deleted scenes folder, then chop it from its original unit and rewrite the new section in its place.

8. Inevitably I realize that I missed something earlier, or just hadn’t noticed I needed it till I got to a later spot again, and have to go back. The great thing about Scrivener is it’s really easy to flip between chapters/scenes and back compared to a Word document. So this is the one time I allow myself to jump out of the start-to-finish progression – but I always wait till I get to the end of the chapter I’m working on, to try to minimize the disruption on my focus.

9. When I get to the end, I compile it as a Word doc and then make any formatting changes I need to. Scrivener seems not to do small caps, for instance, and I tend to favour these for indicating labels and stuff.

10. And then I attach it to an email and send it off to my alpha readers!

I use a similar process when working through second-pass revisions and onward, minus numbers 1-4. I read through my critique partners/beta readers’ feedback, make a list in my writing notebook of things that need to be addressed, then leave their annotated version of my manuscript open in the background while I return to chapter one of my own working draft and start reading again at the beginning.

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4 responses to “The revision process

  1. Sounds very methodical and effective. I’ve gone through extensive edits for two manuscripts now (three others just got set aside), and I’m still working out what works best for me.

  2. Thank you very much for this post! It is great to see your step-by-step revision process; it really makes revision feel very possible and much more doable than it did before. When I have a chance, I’ll check out those other links that you shared as well. Now my only issue will be finding some readers for my manuscript once I’m finished the revision…

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