Revision Diary: the Painstaking Stuff

(I hate long blog post intros, so diving right in.) After going through the entire ms and marking it up in Word as well as creating a chapter-by-chapter outline and marking THAT up, I am finally down to the actual revision.

Even though I’m making major changes in this revision, this isn’t the time to bash through and hit the major points first. For one thing, this is about the five hundredth revision. For another, I’m just not that kind of writer. I compare my revision method to combing out very long, very snarled hair. You just have to work bit by bit, with patience and you have to keep going back and combing forward, over and over. It’s painstaking but it’s my method and I’m kind of stuck with it.

So here’s where I am today. Here’s a glimpse of my outline.

I break each chapter down into scenes. This is helpful to me because if I try to go through scenes in the ms itself, I get sucked into reading and lose track of what I’m doing. The outline helps me to focus on which scenes provide opportunities to make the points the revision needs to make. “Opportunity” is my new revision word. I like it better than “fix” or “change.”

So everywhere there’s a yellow highlight, there’s an opportunity and I know that’s a scene I need to focus on.

Next to the outline are visual references. It helps me a lot to have pictures of my main characters. Every time I get into trouble in the ms, when I’m stuck, it’s ALWAYS because I’ve pushed a character to do or say something that is not organic to the character. The photos remind me that they are individuals.

I also have images of settings because I love settings and think they are as much a character as anyone else. The photos are evocative and can help pull me back into the story if I get distracted. (Yes, I know you can make bulletin boards on Scrivener* and blah blah, but I like physical copies. Pictures in particular look different printed out. And I get great satisfaction from crumpling up each page of the outline as I move forward.)

And here’s a marked up page on Word:

A lot of the notes on the ms itself are sort of clean-up items. They’re about language, tone, small points, correcting things that have been altered by other changes. The big picture items are in the yellow highlights on the outline. At this point, there are 478 comments to attend to! (I delete as I go, so there were more.) I’m not even going to look at how many yellow highlights there are. There aren’t 478 but there are a lot. And a lot of them involve rethinking, and that has always been the hardest part of revision for me: reimagining what I have already imagined.

The other challenge with this revision is that while I am adding a lot of new information, my goal is to cut this thing by 100 pages.

(Six down, ninety-four to go…)

*you can do that on Word, too

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