Revision Time

Since I’m fresh off an intensive revise and rewrite stint, guess what this weeks post is all about?

Yep. The Dreaded Revision Process.

Writers seem to fall into two camps when it comes to revisions—those who can’t wait to dig in and smooth out issues, versus those who would rather have a root canal from a Victorian barber, with a rusty drill, than touch a draft again.

Preferences aside, revisions are an inescapable part of the writing process. So I’ll skip the pep talks about revisions not meaning your ms is a dumpster fire, simply that some ideas in your head didn’t make it onto the page in the form you meant them too, and get straight to practical advice. This is a short lost of what got me throught completely restructuring my last ms, cutting a subplot, and rewriting the second half, all on a tight deadline.

Revisions can seem like an overwhelming undertaking, and they can be challenging. Stop, breathe, and realize that they aren’t a monolith. Panic is a surefire way to stall forward momentum/bring on writer’s block, so don’t freak yourself out unnecessarily. What works for me is dividing them up into manageable chunks.

My Quick & Dirty Revision Checklist:

1) Read and absorb revisions notes. Read and absorb again, once you’re over the urge to either punch something or trash your story. Decide what resonates, and what doesn’t. If there are notes from multiple sources, make a master list of combined changes instead of jumping back and forth from one set of notes to the other.

2) Create a scene map, if you haven’t already.

No, seriously. I’m a recent convert, because scene maps saved my butt on this ms, so I’m spreading the scene-map gospel.

Go chapter by chapter, scene by scene, and briefly outline whose POV you’re in, the setting and time, and the goal/motivation/conflict. Basically, what happened here and how does it move the story forward? Once you have this map, you can easily plug in proposed changes and see immediately if they will have a ripple effect throughout the story, and where.

3) Decide on your process. Revisions can be the chapter-by-chapter route, making changes to arcs, plot elements, and pacing all at once. Or, they can be done by breaking them down and working with one issue at a time, from beginning of the ms to the end—start with plot, then go back and do a pass for pacing, then another for layering emotions, or worldbuilding, or…

I prefer the chapter method, but others are big-picture thinkers.

There’s no “right” way, only the way that works for you.

4) Go through and check for ripples created by deleting a subplot, character, or event—or created by adding them. Check your timeline again, too, since it’s easy to forget you changed a pinch-point event from day to noght, or a full moon to a waxing moon.

5) Smooth out any scene or chapter transitions. If you cut a chunk of the previous chapter, especially at the end, the opening paragraph of your next chapter may no longer make sense.

6) Line edits. Although it’s tempting to knock out line edits first, since they aren’t complex and give a sense that you’re really getting something accomplished, you’re probably actually wasting time. It’s a given parts will end up cut, augmented, or tweaked, so editing a line you don’t know if you’re keeping is pointless.

7) While line editing, it’s also easy to watch for filter words (saw/heard/thought/etc) and fillers (little/big/that). If you don’t already have a list favorites/crutch word list, doing something like a Wordle word cloud will also show you the most commonly used words in your ms. See if you have overused favorites and chop mercilessly.

8) Double check your formatting. Then, check again. Margins and spacing can revert back to system defaults.

And…the end. You made it.

Until the next round of CP/beta reads and critiques.

Comments 2

  • These are great ideas, especially for novel revisions! I am high off a successful first-time outline of a short story, and I will definitely give the scene map a try when I am ready to dive back into my first novel WIP!

  • I just came off of revisions of my first Novella. It’s the longest piece I’ve ever edited, and I was pulling my hair out by the end.

    Definitely all great advice, and I’ll have to try the Scene-Map with the short I’m editing now. I would only add one thing. Read it aloud. It’s amazing what I catch when I read the entire piece aloud that I missed multiple times reading it normally.

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