My Revision Process
August 13, 2018
I used to hate revising. HAAAAATE. I dreaded it and never wanted to do it, which is funny because now I actually love revising.
So what changed?
Mainly, I think it was me realizing that writing is rewriting. I'll say it again: WRITING IS REWRITING. I love seeing how much stronger my book gets after every revision. I love seeing what changes and what stays the same. I love seeing my characters grow and their arcs deepen as I begin to understand them more fully. But also, I found a process for tackling revisions that works well for me, and that was a game changer.
I'm a big fan of doing what works for you, so take this with a grain of salt. But if you haven't found a system that allows you to hit the ground running and understand what you need to do, then pull up a chair and pour yourself a glass of something that ends in e. Maybe what works for me might just work for you, too!
Okay, first things first.
WRITE YOURSELF AN EDIT LETTER
This is my very first step in any revision. If you're a Pitch Wars mentee, your mentor already provided you with an edit letter (or will be soon!), so you're all set. Hooray! Step one is complete. If you don't have an edit letter from a mentor, agent, editor, or some other fabulous person who's read your book and wants to help you improve it, that's okay. Write one for yourself.
After you've read through your manuscript and taken notes, write yourself an edit letter hitting the major points of what you need to tackle in your revision. Maybe it's pacing, maybe it's a character arc or not understanding the MC's desires, maybe it's working to build your setting or add in more conflict. Maybe it's all of the above! Whatever you want to revise for needs to go in your letter, so write it all down, give each separate note its own header, then pat yourself on the back. You're done with the first step!
CREATE A COMPREHENSIVE CHAPTER OUTLINE
Does this feel like a lot of prep work before you dive in? Yes? Okay, good, because that's how it's supposed to feel. I became a much more efficient reviser when I did a ton of work up front to get me ready.
This step is tedious but easy. Open up your manuscript then create a new document. Create a heading for each chapter followed by bullet points, and as you scroll through your manuscript, make a bullet point for everything that happens in that chapter. For example, this is Chapter One of SHADOWS CAST BY DREAMS:
Chapter 1: August 4th
- Rain painting in her bedroom
- Rain’s parents surprise her with the art studio
- Car accident
- Rain chooses Zaiah
I cover all the main things that happen in this chapter, and I also have the date at the top, so I can follow my timeline throughout the outline.
Once you've done this for every chapter, it's time to get out your highlighters! Refer back to your edit letter, and give each main header its own color. Does your edit letter say you need to better develop Waldo, a very lovable yet one-dimensional side character? Great! Waldo's color is green. Now go through your chapter outline and highlight in green everywhere Waldo shows up. Then do this for every other category in your edit letter.
I also take this time to annotate where it might make sense to add Waldo, or tighten up the pacing, or delete a scene. Anything I think of while reading through the outline, I write down in the margins.
GET OUT THE INDEX CARDS
This is really just taking your chapter outline to the next level. If you feel that your chapter outline is enough, feel free to skip this step and move on, but I'm a VERY visual person and this step has helped me immensely (as you can see from the picture). The cards on the cork board are for my WIP–the cards on the floor are for SHADOWS.
Using your chapter outline (which is conveniently color-coded now!), write out each important scene on its own index card. This doesn't need to include things like "Waldo and Biscuit lounge on the couch." This is for the big scenes. Using our example from above, for Chapter One I'd write an index card that says "car accident". That's the only scene in that chapter that needs its own index card.
(tip: if you go through a chapter that doesn't need at least one index card, that chapter needs to be deleted or rewritten to propel the story forward!)
Once you have an index card written for each big scene, lay them out in chronological order. You can also color code your index cards if you want. I do that, but again, I'm super visual, so it really works for me.
The beauty of the index cards is that I get a bird's eye view of my novel. I can see where everything is at a glance, and if I want to change something or move something around, I can see how it will impact the rest of the outline.
This step really shines when it comes to adding in new scenes. As I'm revising, I'll write an index card for every new scene I know I need to write, then stare at the index card outline until I know exactly where the new scene should go. What's great though, is that if I insert a scene and don't like where it ended up, I can easily move it around again to see where a better place might be.
I cut and add and move around scenes SO MUCH when I revise, and this step has made that process way smoother for me.
*hive fives all the other visual writers out there*
Guess what? Your prep work is done and you're ready to start revising! Hooray!
for the love of everything good in this world TACKLE ONLY ONE THING AT A TIME
That sounds a bit dramatic, but guys, this is my single BIGGEST piece of advice and I cannot emphasize it enough. TACKLE ONE THING AT A TIME. When I got my first edit letter, I just opened my manuscript and went through chapter by chapter, trying to add in and cut and rewrite and edit every single thing that was mentioned in the edit letter. This approach led to banging my head against a wall, lots of tears, lots of wine, and crippling self-doubt.
And because it apparently takes me a while to learn, I did this when I got my second edit letter as well. I know. But then. THEN! I learned.
Now, I do one pass for each thing in my edit letter.
BUT RACHEL! MY EDIT LETTER IS TEN PAGES AND HAS SEVEN CATEGORIES AND YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY MEAN I'LL HAVE TO DO SEVEN PASSES JUST TO FINISH THIS ONE REVISION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Actually, that's exactly what I mean.
If your edit letter has seven categories of things you need to revise for, do a pass for each one. Yes, that means you'll be doing seven passes. That doesn't mean that each pass requires you to read every sentence (or even every chapter!) in your manuscript. It just means that when you're revising for Waldo's one-dimensionalness (new word!), you're going to focus solely on Waldo and where he shows up in your novel.
It's too hard to jump to Chapter Seven, write about Waldo and his dog Biscuit and then add in a car chase and tighten up the pacing and add in allll the stakes. By the time you move on and see Waldo again, his arc is no longer fresh in your mind. But if you do everything Waldo-related at once, you'll have a very clear sense of his arc as a whole. You'll save yourself time by not having to go back and reread and see what you've already changed.
And good news! Since you've done so much handy prep work, you already know everywhere Waldo shows up. You've already annotated on your chapter outline the scenes he might be a good addition to or where you can better state what drives him. You've even highlighted it all in green so you know exactly where Waldo is (HA!).
So. Look at your edit letter and pick the first thing you want to revise for. (I typically pick the hardest/most intensive thing I'm revising for and work my way to the easiest.) Say it's pacing. Great. Grab your chapter outline and look at all the notes you took regarding pacing. Did you mark that any of the chapters are slow or nothing happens? Or that you blew right past a big reveal? These notes will be your starting point.
Then look at your index cards and start moving things around to see where they fall. And once you've come up with a plan you like, start revising! Do this for every category in your edit letter, and before you know it, you'll have a fully revised manuscript.
DO A FINAL READ THROUGH
You don't have to do this, but I think it's a really good idea. I print my manuscript and bind it, sit down with a red pen and coffee, and read the whole thing.
In my last Big Revision, I altered my timeline (thus the date next to my chapter above!). When I read through the manuscript after finishing my revision, I caught a lot of places where there were timing inconsistencies or references to the month that I just didn't see when revising. When so many things change and get moved around, the final read through is a great way to make sure everything was stitched back together in a way that makes sense and reads smoothly.
Okay, that's it! My revision process. Again, this is what works for me, and it may or may not work for you. But if you're feeling overwhelmed and don't know where to start, hopefully this will help give you the kick start you need.