This week, I’m talking about the process behind how I revise. A disclaimer, of course: everyone’s revision process is different, and I don’t believe there’s any one right or wrong way to revise. Do what’s best for your creative method! And maybe as you read about mine, you’ll get an idea or feel excited for when it’s time for you decide to dive into revisions.
Without further ado, here is my revision process…
Step Zero: Draft the book with notes and penguins
Okay, you didn’t misread–penguins are part of my fast drafting process.
When I was a young, wee writer, my brother would add the word “penguin” throughout my document to prank me. Now, I use that word as a placeholder so I can search the document and immediately go back to a scene I need to fill out or change.
I like to have a very rough draft written, even if I know it’s bad while I’m writing it. For me personally, it’s much easier to have a full draft that I can add to and reorganize instead of writing something perfect off the bat. My only rule is first draft, no rules. I give myself permission to write poorly, to have a book riddled with cliches, to repeat the same description or to never describe a thing at all.
That said, while I draft, my editor voice is yelling at me LOUDLY in the back of my head. To quell its yelling, I will leave a comment for myself in the document. Sometimes it’s “introduce this character better” or “describe Ofelia’s gown” or “go back and make the king’s motivation clearer sooner.” For me personally, I do better leaving those problems for future Catherine. Your mileage may vary!
Step One: Address penguins and comments
Going through the document, I search for the word “penguin” and then fill in the missing details or scenes that I skipped over in drafting. I go through the comments in the margins of my word document. Those I feel are small enough to take care of immediately, I do (for example, if I was uncertain of a word choice, or wanted to describe something better, or wanted to change someone’s name). If I made a note of a more significant change (for example, go back and plant more clues of the villain earlier in the draft), I proceed to step two…
Step Two: Set any extra notes into a separate document
For notes I know I’ll want to address later, I put them in a separate document. I usually do it in bullet points, like:
–Go back and introduce the pizza man better
–Enhance sensory details in scenes with magic
–Weave in Jo’s backstory more naturally
There will only be a few of these, because I’m drawing from the notes I took while I was writing, the little notes of things that REALLY bothered me even while I was drafting.
Step Three: Make chapter summaries (a revision roadmap)
Next, I do a quick read through of the whole book. As I read, I do two things:
- I write a 1-5 sentence summary of each chapter as I read
- If I encounter a problem during a chapter as I read, I make note of it and add it to my document of bullet-pointed-problems. Ideally, I also include the chapter the problem was in, just so I remember.
Step Four: Address chapter summary problems
After I’ve written summaries for each chapter, I can take a quick look and see if there are any structural problems to my story. If nothing happens in Chapter 2 but a quick conversation, I add a note to my edit letter. Maybe I’ll combine that with another chapter or cut the chapter altogether. If Chapter 8’s summary is too long, I’ll make a note to find a place to break up the chapter. If we go to the supermarket in Chapter 9 and then go to the supermarket again in Chapter 10, I make a note on adding some variations to those scenes.
Step Five: Organize edit notes into categories
Next, I drag the bullet points into categories or tasks. For example, I put all the notes about worldbuilding next to each other, or all the notes about one character, or all the notes about backstory, etc.
Step Six: Make an editing reward chart and timeline and revise chronologically
Now, I estimate how long each task will take me.
For example, let’s say I decide to devote a week to addressing worldbuilding problems. Over the next seven days, I go chronologically through the book and read and rewrite with the goal of addressing the worldbuilding concerns as I come across them. After I finish the task or have gone through the whole book addressing my worldbuilding problems, I give myself a reward or put down a sticker in my notebook to mark my progress. I try to give myself deadlines for each item on my list so the revisions are broken up into manageable chunks and given a realistic timeframe.
Step Seven: Yell in friend’s inbox
If along my revision journey I have tangled some plot thread or encountered something confusing, I often message a friend and ask their opinion on my problem. I’m an external processor, meaning I need to think out loud, and for me, having a friend as a sounding board makes a big difference. (Thank you Pri, Esme, Allison, and all the others!!)
Step Eight: Read through again
After I have addressed everything in my edit letter to myself, I read through the book to check for typos or any inconsistencies as a result of my recent editing pass.
Step Nine: Send to betas!
When I think my book is as ready as it can be, I send it to my beta readers. I give them a few bullet points of concerns I have (Did you think the POVs were distinct? Do you think I should keep the epilogue? Are there any characters you felt were too flat?) and give them a generous amount of time to give feedback. Above all, I let them know that if they don’t like the book or don’t have the time, they are allowed to stop reading whenever they want. Your readers are giving you their time for free, and I want to be very gracious and lenient when it comes to a reader’s availability.
Step Ten: Repeat
Even after I’ve made my perfect, beautiful, precious baby of a draft, it has some flaws. I get notes back from my betas and reflect on them for a while. Nine times out of ten, my betas’ vision for my story would make it MUCH stronger. Yes, I should start on Chapter Three instead of Chapter One. Yes, I should make the book from the pizza boy’s POV instead. Yes, I should cut the epilogue about the importance of garlic in the main character’s life, even though I thought it was great at the time. With these changes in mind, I make a new edit letter by compiling my betas’ notes. Then I tackle the revisions again, this time with the help and feedback of my betas along the way.
That’s my revision process! It involves reading and re-reading the manuscript many times, but it also leaves me feeling very proud of my hard work and very secure in the way I’ve written my story. As I said in the opening, your revision process may differ greatly from mine–and that’s totally okay. In fact, if you want to DM me or tweet at me about your own revision tips, I’d love to hear them! My process can vary from book to book, and I find that over time, with each project, I’m learning and getting better at this whole “author” thing the more books I revise.