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!)
- 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