revising, part 2: first round

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So, as I said in the previous post, I resist the urge to revise until I’ve finished a first draft. Then, ideally, I leave the whole thing for a while. Preferably a couple weeks, but in reality, my deadline is looming so it might only be a day or so.

First, I make a list of the things I need to change. This might be overall stuff like a plot thread, or pacing, or even just facts I couldn’t be bothered to check the first time round. Then I print out the whole manuscript and give it a read-through with pen in hand. Some text-level changes I make right on the ms; sometimes I go back to my computer to write fresh stuff. I’ve been known to cut pages physically into pieces to rearrange bits. Sometimes I colour-code stuff, so I can see what’s happening; often I make a calendar to check the time continuity. I might stop to figure something out using index cards or flow charts (I’m a visual thinker). I might write a synopsis at this point (I’m not good at writing them before I’ve done a draft.) All the time, I’m making more notes on my list–continuity things, or stuff I need to add more to, or questions I haven’t addressed.

I tried a pacing/plot thread chart with my last ms (Kate/Cat blogged about her own here). I think with this current one, I’ll outline the first section in index cards before I start to revise/rewrite it. I’m probably going to make lists of themes and draw out the heroine’s emotional arc, too, so I can make sure the story’s consistent.

I find revising a whole novel takes up more brain-space than writing the first draft. It’s a different kind of thinking skill. You have to hold the whole story, everything, in your head at once, whereas when you’re writing, you only have to hold the scene you’re writing. I get very cranky when I’m revising for the first time. I hate being interrupted, or doing anything else. I can easily revise for 12 hours straight, if I’m allowed to, without remembering to eat or drink, whereas I need to take lots of breaks from composing. In my perfect world, I would disappear to a cabin in the woods to revise.

Ideally, once I’ve produced a revised draft, I’d let it sit for awhile, and then go through it again. And again. In practice, my deadlines are usually too tight.

Finally, I give the book in. And then, the real work begins…but I’ll blog about that a bit later.

What do you do?

(This discussion started with part 1 and continues in part 3 and part 4.)

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  1. I know you rarely have to do it but about earlier on did you ever had to go in and do another big revision and if so how did you attack it and why?

    I love all the different weapons you to do the rewrite! The wip doesn’t stand a chance 🙂

  2. I revise by working backwards through the book. I take it para by para and look at it each one to see if it advances the story, does it give information the only way possible. It’s surprising how much stronger you can make your story and what you notice that you don’t always see if you do it from the start. Otherwise I find my beginnings get messed with a lot and the rest of the book goes into a gentle decline – this way it really strengthens the whole thing.

  3. Liz, I’ve had several big big revisions. I’ll blog about that later, though I’m going to talk about my agent and editor revisions, first.

    Nell, I think that is a very interesting idea though I’m not sure I could do it that way. I don’t think backwards! I’ll try it though.

    The thing is, that often imagery and emotion develops as the story goes onwards–how do you take that into consideration if you’re working backwards?

    What are the benefits to working backwards? Does it mean you see everything in isolation? Or is it so that you won’t get trapped into revising and re-revising the beginning?

  4. I am currently trialling the index card method which seems to be working. Of course I am always far too close to tell, and can never really say about anything until my editor has looked at it.

    I am in awe at being able to work backwards. I do find it helps to know the end, and then to be able to layter points in but I always have to work forward.

  5. Julie, I borrowed the plot chart idea from you! It helped me see where I’d written scenes that did nothing, or why they were boring, or which were just imparting the same information as other scenes had already done.

    Plus, I’m a sucker for a chart!

    I generally only do little revisions as I’m going along, more of them at the start of the book when I’m really making it up as I go along and finding out where the story is going. Once it’s on track, I do less on-the-spot revisions.

    My revision process is different for each book. Sometimes it just needs tuning up, sometimes it needs totally restringing.

  6. loving all the posts…if you ever get that cabin, Julie, can you rent it out to me when you’re not editing? Looking forwrd to your “agent” post.

  7. Blimey, Nell, don’t think I could think backwards either.

    Even thinking forwards is a bit much some days.

  8. I really found that the index cards worked well for Girl from Mars, Michelle. I’ve done a bit for this wip, but haven’t had the same simultaneous-plotline-juggling with this one that I did with GfM. GfM was really the story of three friendships and a romance and a comic book, and Nina Jones is the story of Nina Jones.

    Which of course makes me worry it’s too simplistic, but never mind. I can always worry about something.

  9. K8, I’m really glad that technique helped you with that book.

    I sort of have a routine, but each book needs a different amount of revision. As I’ll blog about later, since Liz was so foolish as to ask. 😉

  10. Fran, the cabin is all yours. Just don’t feed the bears. 🙂

    Jan…I know!!! I think I mostly think sideways.

  11. I’ll look for the post as and when Julie. Nell, trying to get my head asround the backwards….I think I sort of see it. Maybe I need more coffee and all will become clear!

  12. Oh flippin eck. I feel inadequate here. I do mine in my head. the moment i reach for a card or a system it breaks the spell for me. I am not a methodical person so maybe that’s OK. I’ve revised as I go along but on the read through I make more chances. I don’t add in imagery and metaphor after, I hope it’s developed sub consciously from the start – the actual language is really important to me. But I can get into terrible scrapes too!

  13. Working backwards you don’t get trapped into revising the start but you often find the imagery and emotion you thought you’d built up, isn’t as strong as it could be because you’ve spent so much time at the beginning. I find by the time I’m two thirds of the way through the changes I need to make at the beginning make much more sense and I spend much less time changing things back to probably something similar to what i had in the first place. It also helps you see if you’ve actually started in the right place or have put too much filler in taht you’ve bought out better in the story further on – if that makes sense?

  14. Actually, I don’t think I’ve been clear enough about my use of different techniques like cards and things, Phillipa–I’ll do another quick blog now about it.

    The imagery and metaphor, though (and also setting)–what happens with me is that a single image will stick in my head as I write the book, and as I go, it’ll organically get more complex and start weaving itself in. So when I revise, I need to revise to think about how I can make that image important from the beginning. An example of this in Honey Trap is Sophie’s feelings about the clothes and makeup she uses for her job. When I reached the end, I realised (with editor’s help) that this was very important for her personality. So I ended up adding two whole scenes that explored that issue (her first makeover, and shopping for clothes in Paris), and I made sure that the language throughout the book describing how she looks on a honey trap reflects the ambivalence of her feelings.

    A similar thing happened with the imagery of alien-ness in Girl from Mars, and I think it will happen with my revision of Nina Jones, looking at architecture and buildings as symbolism.

  15. That makes sense, Nell, though I’m still not sure I could do it. I will definitely experiment with that technique.

    Maybe I do something similar just by virtue of the fact that I finish a book and then pretty much immediately start revising the beginning, which I haven’t even looked at for months–I’ve got the ending fresh in my head when I start again at page 1?

    But it doesn’t sound as rigorous a technique as yours.

  16. I admit I tinker with the start over and over – and I mean dozens of times. i am a serial tinkerer.. 🙂 Fascinating dicussion Julie hat maybe goes to show the obvious: We’re all different!

  17. I would like to be a tinkerer but I’d drive myself mad!

    Yes, and I think every book is different, too, Phillipa, even by the same author.

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