R is for Revision

I’m gearing up to do the first round of revisions on my WIP. I totally don’t have a system for revision (yet?). I’d really like to do have a set of steps I follow for revisions—instead of still making plot-level cuts and additions two years after I should have!—but I think I just might not be that kind of person. I mean, I can be really faithful about using a datebook, but only for a couple months. The last two months of each of my children’s baby calendars are a major challenge. (Oh wait… Gotta update that!)

Here’s what I do/have done—and I use at least three of these methods at any given time:

  • Make running commentary notes as I’m writing in comments or square brackets.
  • Keep a list of changes I want to make in another document.
  • Keep a list of changes in a sticky-note.
  • Write down ideas on any available slip of paper.
  • Email myself ideas, notes and changes.
  • Reread the completed draft, where I’m only allowed to make notes/comments. (And fix typos.)
  • Complete the exercises in one or more of Donald Maass’s books.
  • Send to alpha/beta readers.
  • Read more craft books.
  • Take time off.
  • Write down character exercises on any available scrap of paper.
  • Talk over potential changes—mostly with myself, since it takes too long to explain everything to give someone else enough context to respond.
  • Lose and/or toss a good proportion of the notes.
  • Print off the entire book and read it aloud, chapter by chapter.
  • Margie Lawson’s EDITS system.
  • Start over at step 1.

Each of these methods can be effective. But still, if this looks like a mess, that’s because it is!

This time around, I’m trying to focus on the plot- and character-level fixes I need first. I went into this book not sure of my characters’ voices (apparently I did something right, though!), or even my characters themselves, and with a plot that was a lot less defined than I usually like. I know the big things I want to improve, but I’m trying to figure out if there are other things I need to fix now (before I get into the more wordy-level things).

I know some people are much better at going about this systematically, and I want to learn from people like Jami, Natalie, and Suzannah. It seems like they have such great “systems” for revising, attacking each problem in order, and they’ll never miss anything. Okay, so that last part is probably just wishful thinking on my part, but wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a single system we could work through with our first draft to make it into something we can really work with?

What do you think? How do you revise?

Edited to add more posts on systems of revision (partially for my own reference): Five types of edits from the QueryTracker blog.

Photo by Joanna Penn

5 thoughts on “R is for Revision”

  1. *insert maniacal laughter* I came up with that list on my website to try to give *me* a plan. Doesn’t mean I actually follow it. 🙂 Thanks for the link to my blog.

  2. LOL I do almost ALL those! Especially the scraps of paper and the emailing to myself. I also save my own ideas and others’ suggestions in Word documents. My next step is to follow Jami’s system, which she may or may not follow herself. 🙂

  3. If I didn’t feel so guilty about the trees, I would still use my old fashioned “print it out and attack it with a gel pen” approach. It served me well for many years, and I have to say, my brain simply thinks differently when I can see and manipulate several pages at once. But oh, the trees!

    I attempt to limit myself to one or two things on each read-through (“ok, just looking for plot or Character A on this pass”) but reality is, you can’t. We work globally, and a novel is a woven fabric, not a twist of wires laying alongside each other. You have to let yourself look at it all at once. I usually keep a notebook (a real, paper notebook) next to me while I revise to write notes and ideas in as I revise on the computer and try to carry that around to avoid the scribbling on scraps of paper (never tried emailing to myself).

    Let’s face it. Revising isn’t pretty. Anyone who says they have a foolproof method that they use everytime is probably lying.

  4. I agree with Maryanne that no one system is foolproof. I’ve handled revisions in a different way for each one of my novels! The one consistent is a complete read through with a notebook and pen in hand, or an open computer file for notes. The first read through is usually the “big picture” analysis, although I can never resist fixing minor things like typos and grammar that jump out at me. Then I print it out (I recycle pages later so the trees don’t make me feel guilty, and I *need* to read it on paper), and go through for smaller problems like inadequate setting, character development or inconsistencies. Then I let beta readers look at it, and after I get their feedback and make any necessary additional changes, I go through on a line edit.

    I’d like to say that’s the end of it, but the truth is my process has differed with every book, and I usually go through the ms again and again, tweaking and fixing and wondering what else could be improved. I suspect each writer has a different approach, but also each story differs enough that it requires a special approach, too.

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