Today I’m going to share my revision process with you, in case it’s helpful, but if it isn’t, please disregard and do what works for you.
I like to break revision into two parts: Big-Scale-Revision (the hard part!) and Small-Scale-Revision (the fun part!). The most difficult thing for me about revising is figuring out how to fix/resolve problems I know are there.
First, I read through a hard copy of my manuscript, and make notes as I go. If I have an idea for how to fix something, I’ll jot it in the margins. If I know I’ve got problems but don’t know how to fix it, I’ll jot stuff like “more character development” or “this isn’t working” or “check for consistency”, etc. etc. I’ve also found it helpful to number my scenes right on the hard copy.
Next, I open Numbers, which is Mac-talk for Excel. This is probably THE MOST HELPFUL THING I do when I’m formulating my Revision Battle Plan: making a scene list. I have a handful of columns: a Scene # column (helpful for keeping track when you’re rearranging scenes), a Chapter column, a POV column (if I have multiple POV characters), a Location column (if I have a lot of complicated settings to keep track of), a Scene Description column, and a Notes column.
In the Scene Description column, I jot down a line or two of what happens in the scene.
In the Notes column, I jot down things I want to change, and/or type in comments from my manuscript read-through.
Once I’ve got the entire novel in Numbers in scene form—and this is important—I put the manuscript away.
The beauty of the scene list is that it allows me to step back from my prose and look at how the novel is functioning as a narrative. It keeps me from having to read the ms over and over and over, and it makes me let go of my pretty sentences and focus on what’s more important: structure, plot, character development, pacing.
With the scene list, I can work on my novel in miniature. As I peruse it, I begin to see what scenes need to go, where scenes are missing, what scenes could be combined, what scenes would make more sense somewhere else. I do all this adding and changing and rearranging right in Numbers, until the structure of the novel is working and I know exactly what changes need to be made in the manuscript itself.
Sometimes I get fancy (and make myself feel better about all the work that’s coming) by color-coding everything: red for scenes that are getting cut, yellow for scenes that are moving, green for new scenes, etc.
Then I print out the scene list, usually titling it REVISION BATTLE PLAN FOR X, and take several deep, deep breaths.
Because now it’s time to break out Scrivener and actually make all the changes/additions/cuts to the manuscript. If I have to do a lot of rewriting, I’ll re-type the scenes in their entirety, which helps me get back into the flow of the novel, and makes it easier when I have to write brand new scenes. During this phase, I do refer back to the manuscript, which is where those scene numbers come in handy.
Sometimes, the changes I’ve planned don’t quite work, and I have to go in a slightly new direction, but that’s okay—I’m used to changing my outline on the fly whilst drafting, so I expect that in revisions, too.
One of the best things about the Revision Battle Plan is being able to check off each scene as I get through it—it’s super motivating for me to have something quantifiable to measure my progress.
Once I get through the whole Battle Plan, I print off the newly-revised manuscript and read it again, making notes and small-scale changes as I go. This is where I get to focus on Small-Scale-Revisions, and make my sentences pretty (yay!).
After that, the manuscript goes off to my critique partners (or editor, depending on if I’m under contract or not).
Revising is never an easy process for me. Making my Battle Plan can take weeks, making the actual revisions can take months. But I like having a plan of attack, a way of breaking the impossible down into manageable pieces. It’s like that old joke: How do you eat an elephant*? One bite at a time, friends, one bite at a time.
Until next time,
* Elephants are awesome, and I by no means am advocating for anyone to actually eat one. 😜