My Writing Process – Part 4: Revision

My Writing Process: Part 4 - RevisionWelcome to Part 4 of My Writing Process series! In this series, I break down my writing process and share what I’ve found works best for me in the hopes that some of my process might help you too! (Missed the first three parts? Find them here: Part 1 – Brainstorming, Part 2 – Outlining, Part 3 – Drafting.) Today, we’re talking about Revision!

Yes, we’re at the revision stage! What that means to me is that I have the skeleton of the story figured out. I know who the characters are, I understand the world they live in, and I know what the beginning, middle, and end of the book will be. However, often times it takes writing the book for me to really understand those elements, which means they may not be fully realized in the drafts I have. That’s where revision comes in.

Read for character, plot, and world

Before I do anything, I sit down and read what I wrote. In the drafting post I mentioned that sometimes I won’t bother reading old drafts if I know I’m going to change a lot. By the time I get to revision, I’m definitely reading the book. I go through it with a green pen and a notebook. For earlier revisions, I’m mostly focused on the big picture issues in the characters, plot, and world. I’m looking for inconsistencies and out of character behavior, plot holes or incomplete plots, and elements of the world that are unclear or just don’t make sense. For even more details on what I’m looking for, check out the post: How to Identify Your Novel’s Problems (and keep in mind at this stage, I’m only really focused on the early stage revision problems).

I don’t do too much writing in the book itself at this point. I may box out or make notes about a big section, but typically the issues are bigger than any one page, scene, or chapter. Instead, I make notes on paper about the problems I come across and the chapters or page numbers I find these problems. Here’s an example from when I was working on Enemy Exposure:

Click to enlarge

Freewrite/Brainstorm solutions

Once I know what my book’s major problems are, I brainstorm solutions by freewriting. This is similar to how I brainstormed at the start of the book. Up until this point of my process, I’ve moved more or less chronologically through the book as I worked. (As in, I focused on chapter one, then chapter two, then chapter three, etc). Now I start jumping around focusing on each individual problem. When I brainstorm a solution, I freewrite that solution out in its entirety, even if it means skipping whole chapters/sections that have other issues. I’ll freewrite until I feel like I have a good working solution, then I move on to the next problem. I’ll repeat this until I feel like I know how to solve each of my book’s issues. Here’s another example from my Enemy Exposure revisions:

Click to Enlarge

Make a revision plan/outline for each problem

Once I know how I want to solve my problems, it’s time to figure out how to practically apply my solutions. I take my freewrites and I go through my book and figure out which chapters and scenes need to be changed to incorporate my solution. Like in the last step, I tackled this problem by problem (as opposed to planning changes chapter by chapter). This keeps me focused on working in the necessary changes without getting caught up in the other moving parts of the book. I make a plan/outline for each of my problems, which looks like this:

Click to Enlarge

For more on how to make a revision plan, check out this post!

Make a revision schedule

Since I made my plan, I know exactly how much work I have to do. To keep myself on track, I make a revision schedule so I know what my goals and objectives are each day. I typically work from the biggest problem to the smallest.

Part of this is for practical reasons. It makes more sense to me to make the big changes first since they typically run through more of the book and are more likely to interfere with a smaller problem. I’d hate to take the time changing a small problem, only to realize a bigger problem’s solution interferes with my new change and I have to change the smaller problem again. The other part of this is about momentum. I typically have more momentum and enthusiasm at the start of a revision, so it’s psychologically better for me to use that energy up front, then work through the smaller problems, which are usually much quicker to work in. Comparatively, if I take out my smaller problems first, the big problems feel even more intimidating if I’m losing steam at the end of a revision.

Revise by problem

Just like everything else so far in this stage, I revise by problem. Not only does this keep me focused on fixing the one specific problem at a time, but it also makes my book new again when I go to read it. When I read my book after a drafting phase, I typically have an idea of how the book will read since I drafted sequentially. But when I read a revision, I have no idea how my changes will work in the book as a whole. Revising out of order gives the whole project a fresh perspective that I desperately need when I’m three drafts in.

Get feedback

At this point, I know my book pretty well. Even though revision makes my book new to some extent, I still need to hear from people who have no idea what happens. So I seek out some trusted early readers for some feedback. I did an entire series on feedback, and you can find the first post here!

Repeat once or twice

I repeat this process until I feel like I have a book that’s really working well. Typically I put a book through at least two or three revisions, but sometimes it’s more than that if the book needs it.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how I revise and I hope you find something here you might like to try!

You can find the last part of the series, Part Five: Editing and Polishing, here!

Now it’s your turn: What’s your approach to revision? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

How to Create a Writing Process that Works: Revision

How to create a writing process that works: revisionWelcome to part three of the How to Create a Writing Process That Works series! (ICYMI: In order to help you discover your own process, I created a writing process series with tips for developing a process that works best for you!) Today we’re going to talk about revision. You can find the post on brainstorming here and the post on drafting here!

Revision can be both very fun and very frustrating. During brainstorming and drafting, the main goal is to get an idea written, but nothing about it has to be good. When we get to revision, it’s time to start caring about how good your work is. Few things are more rewarding than seeing your book start to come together, but it’s also intimidating when you can’t figure out how to fix your issues. That’s a large reason why this process tends to go a little slower than drafting.

Revision can be one of the more challenging aspects of the writing process to nail down. There are several different approaches to pick from, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on the three that I think are the most accessible. You may find it best to use just one of these approaches, or some combination of all three.

First, no matter what, read!

Maybe you took notes while you were writing. Maybe you think you have a good idea what isn’t working in your draft. And maybe you’re right! But you won’t really know what you have to work with until you read your book. You might be surprised to find that something you thought was a terrible idea, isn’t so terrible after all. Or you might realize that a character you thought would be really important isn’t all that necessary.

I find it helpful to take some time away from my projects before I read. How much time is up to you, but I would suggest at least a week. A large part of revision is learning to be objective about what your book really needs. Time away will help with this. If you need a guide for what you should be looking for, consider this post on how to identify what’s wrong with your novel. Once you read and know what your book’s problems are, there are a few different ways you can approach fixing them.

Revise by chapter

I’ve found that this method works well if you’re a very sequential thinker or if your book needs a lot of work. It can also be helpful if you really have no idea where to start. Breaking your book down by chapter gives you a very clear work structure. You can go into each chapter and assess the issues, then make a plan to fix them. It’s also easy to set goals. If you have a chapter that’s a hot mess, your goal for the day might be to fix one or two scenes. If you have a chapter that’s in better shape, you might want to knock out the whole chapter (or two!) in a day. It’s also the most quantitative approach, and it’s the easiest way to track your progress. So if you’re someone who feels most successful when you can say you’ve revised half your book, then this approach may be for you!

Revise by problem

If you get more satisfaction out of crossing tasks off your list, then you might want to consider revising by problem. For this approach, you’ll move through your entire novel correcting one problem at a time. So if you have a character you need to cut, you’ll go through the entire book and remove him. If there’s not enough tension, you’ll go through the entire book and figure out how to add more tension. Then you’ll move to the next problem and do the same. I find this approach (and the next) can be helpful if you draft sequentially. Revising by problem helps you to see your book differently and will also give you a new experience when you go to read back through it. This method can work hand in hand with the next one.

Revise by storyline

Similarly to revising by problem, revising by storyline focuses on one aspect of your book at a time. In this case, we’re looking at your plotlines. For this technique, it’s helpful if you make a list of your major plotlines before you do your read through. Then as you read, check in with each storyline as you go and assess each storyline’s strengths and weaknesses. When you’re finished reading, move through your book and revise sequentially by storyline. In other words, start with your biggest plotline, and go through the first chapter with a focus on fixing just that storyline. Then do the same thing for chapter two and so forth until you reach the end. Once you finish your first storyline, take your second storyline and do the same thing. Not every chapter will have every storyline, but check in just to be sure. You’ll do this for each storyline until you don’t have any left.

Should you tackle your smallest or biggest issues first?

This is, of course, going to be entirely up to you, but unless you’re moving sequentially, I would highly recommend tackling your bigger issues first. It might be tempting to fix the smaller problems up front; they often feel more manageable and being about to cross them off your list is so much fun. However, keep in mind that the bigger a plot/problem is, the more space it’s taking up in your novel. Which means it’s entirely possible that you’ll address a smaller problem only find that you have to rewrite or delete your smaller solution in order to correct your larger problem. Tackling the big problems first can be intimidating, especially if your list is long, but it will often save you time in the long run.

How I learned what works for me

For me, figuring out how I revise best happened organically once I started getting feedback. In my early writing days, it was instinctual for me to move sequentially. That’s how I drafted, so it felt like that’s how I should revise. But when I started getting feedback from other writers, they often broke my book down by problem and storyline. It felt natural for me to go through and address their issues in the same way. I found that when I did this, it took me out of the story and made me more objective. When I revised sequentially, it was easy to get caught up in the book and I was more likely to make decisions with my heart. When I revise by problem and storyline, the problems are my focus–not the story. This has made it easier for me to make decisions a little more clinically. That doesn’t mean some cuts and changes aren’t hard, but I feel better about making them because they solve the problem. Now I only revise sequentially if I know there’s a lot that I’m going to have to rewrite.

Tips to help you find what works for you

Of course, your best bet is to try everything. That’s pretty much the theme of this series. You won’t know what works best for you until you try it. So give it a shot–even if you only try it once! You never know what surprising trick might unlock something in your process.

If you’re torn about which one to try first, I would suggest approaching revision the opposite of how you approach drafting; so if you draft sequentially revise either by problem or storyline, and if you draft out of order, try revising sequentially. I’ve found this helps me to see my story in a new light.

Also, don’t be afraid to get feedback. As you can see, that played a big role in how I revise. For tips on how to find readers, ask for feedback, give feedback, and evaluate feedback, check out my feedback series starting with: How to find the right early readers for your writing.

I hope this gives a good idea of how to build your own revision process!

This concludes our Writing Process Series!

Now it’s your turn: Do you prefer to revise sequentially or out of order? How did you learn what revision approach works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

How to Create a Novel Revision Plan: 5 Writing Tips

How to Create A Novel Revision PlanYou finished the first draft of your novel! (Yay!!) And it’s probably a hot mess. The good news is, it’s supposed to be–so you’re doing things right! As exciting as it is to finish a draft, I know first hand how overwhelming it can be to tackle revision. Here are some tips that have helped me create quality novel revision plan time and time again.

Pick an approach

Before you get started, I suggest picking an approach for your novel revision plan. The two I’m most familiar with are chapter-by-chapter or storyline-by-storyline. (If you know of more, let me know in the comments!) I recommend deciding this up front so you can plan and take notes accordingly.

Chapter-by-Chapter

The idea of this approach is that you’ll go through the book sequentially and address all of the problems in an individual chapter at one shot. So if you realize your character is acting odd, storyline A is weak, and an aspect of storyline B doesn’t make sense, you’ll fix all of these problems in each problematic chapter before moving on to the next one. This approach will probably work better for people who prefer to multitask.

Storyline-by-storyline

If you’re less of a multitasker (like me) you might want to give this approach a try. Instead of juggling multiple problems at once, focus on one problem at a time. In this case, if you notice your character is odd, storyline A is weak, and an aspect of storyline B doesn’t make sense, you first go through the book and fix your character in every scene where he/she is off. Then you do the same thing for Storyline A, then Storyline B. I personally prefer this method, but that’s because I know it works for me. If you’ve never tried either, give them both a shot at some point to see what works best for you.

Read your book

Now that you have your approach, take a step back and see what shape your story is in. It might be tempting to start revising based on how you felt when you were writing, but this is often a bad idea. Scenes that seemed good as you were writing may need some work for one reason or another, and scenes that seemed bad at the time may be surprisingly good when you read through. I would recommend giving yourself some time off before you dive in so you can see things with fresh eyes. Shoot for at least a week if you can.

Once you start, don’t make any changes as you read–especially early in the revision process. Your goal here is to simply see what you have to work with and to identify your novel’s problems. Document problems as you go on a blank piece of paper. If you’re going chapter-by-chapter, try writing down each chapter number than listing any problems. If you’re going storyline-by-storyline, have a page for each character/storyline, then document page numbers and issues on the appropriate page. Or figure out some hybrid that works for you (if you’re going with storylines, maybe document issues by chapter then sort them by storyline later). Again, these are just some suggestions. Only you will know what works for you. Don’t be afraid to adapt these ideas as you see fit.

Here’s a post on how to identify your novel’s problems. I suggest keeping these things in mind as you read, then mentally going through each area again once you finish and have a better idea of your complete book.

Consider freewriting

Once you know what your problems are, consider taking some time to work out your solutions in an informal way. This is how I start every brainstorming and revision planning session. I’ve got a whole post with tips and the benefits of freewriting, so I’ll leave it at that for now. 🙂

Address bigger problems first

Now it’s time to actually make your novel revision plan. No matter which approach you take, I highly recommend addressing the bigger problems first. The bigger problems require the most work and are easier to manage when more of your book is movable or expendable. If you take the time to fix the smaller problems first, you may end up having to trash some of your solutions to solve your larger and more detrimental problem. And then you’ll have to go back and re-solve a problem you’ve already given time to. In some ways, being a writer is like being a doctor. If a patient comes in with multiple issues, doctors will always treat the most life-threatening problem first because it’s essential to the patient’s survival. You should treat your book the same way.  And if you do, you might even find that your smaller problems solve themselves.

Before you start revising, sit down and plan what problem, specifically, you’re going to tackle first, and exactly how you want to solve it. Then move on to your next problem. you can apply this no matter if you’re going chapter-by-chapter or storyline by storyline.

Don’t try to fix it all in one round

I know I say this a lot, but it can’t be stressed enough. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a number of problems in your book, don’t try to fix them all at once. Use this list as a guide and take them one at a time. You can always make another novel revision plan. There’s no limit to the number of revisions you can do to a book. Make it as manageable as possible and do whatever you have to in order to keep moving forward.

I hope this helps you create your own novel revision plan!

Keep in mind, these are just tips and guidelines that have worked for me. Modifying writing advice to meet your own needs and workstyle is essential to developing a happy writing life, so don’t be afraid to experiment!

Now it’s your turn: How do you approach revision? Have you tried a novel revision plan before? What works well for you? What have you struggled with? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

Pin it up!

  

How to Identify Your Novel’s Problems: Revision Tips

Revision Tips: How to Identify Your Novel's ProblemsYou finished a draft of your novel! After you take some time to fully appreciate the fact that you reached the end–which you should definitely do–it’ll be time to dive into revision. But knowing where to start can be tricky. If you’re coming off the first draft, the whole story might feel like a hot mess. If you’re coming off the third, your book may be better but still not “there” yet.

So, how do you know where to begin? Like everything else in writing, I recommend breaking things down into as many steps as possible and taking things one step at a time.

Identify what stage your book’s at

The first thing to know about revision is that you don’t have to tackle everything at once. In fact, I would recommend you don’t even attempt to. If you do, the idea of everything you have to revise might get overwhelming very quickly, and it will be all too easy to give up. Instead, consider first breaking your revision down into two stages–early stage revision and late stage revision. I tend to revise at least two drafts with the “early stage” guidelines and two drafts with the “late stage” guidelines. At this point, we’re just looking at the problems. We’ll touch on addressing them later on.

Side note: These are guidelines that have helped me, but don’t be afraid to modify this to meet your own needs!

Early stage revision – First and Second Drafts

In the early stages, it’s more important to focus on the bigger developmental issues. These are the big elements that shape and carry your book. Don’t worry about the writing itself yet. At this stage, there’s a good chance you’ll have to rewrite a lot of what you’ve already written, so worrying about the language isn’t the best use of your time. Early stage revision is more focused on story and big-picture issues.

Check your characters

Take some time to assess your characters and their development. Are the coming across how you want them too? Do your main and secondary characters appear in the story with some level of consistency? Do all of them serve a purpose? If not, are there characters you can cut? Does each character have some kind of development? Do their actions and reactions line up with who they are and with their overall growth?

Check your plot/storylines

Next, consider your main plot and storylines. Does your overall plot have crisis points or rising actions that consistently build to the climax? Does the middle drag? Is your plot too front-loaded or back-loaded? Do you have storylines that get dropped halfway through the book? Are there storylines that are imbalanced or inconsistent? Are there storylines that are so small or confusing that your book might be better off without them? Is there something missing from your book that adding another storyline might explain? Do the events in each of your plotlines make logical sense? Does every scene play a role in your plot?

Check your setting/world

Now assess the world your characters are living in. Is there a good understanding of the “rules” of this world? Can readers find their way around? Is there a good grasp of the culture and problems? If there’s magic, are the rules clearly explained? If you changed history in our world, are the changes clear? If you created the world, is it fully developed? This section will probably be more important if your sci-fi or fantasy writers who developed your story’s world, but elements of this will probably apply to every writer on some level.

Late stage revision – Third and Fourth Drafts (and up)

Once you feel good about the bigger elements of your book, it’s time to take a closer look at the smaller ones. Late stage revision focuses on your book’s detail and language issues.

Check in with early stage issues

You probably made some big story changes in the earlier stages, so take a second to check back in with them and make sure everything still lines up and makes sense. If it doesn’t, I suggest fixing those elements and making sure you’re happy with the story itself before you move on.

Check believability

Now that the story is set, take a look at how believable the situations are. Do you rely on coincidence too much? Is there a reason for your characters to be acting as they are? Do things happen ‘just because you want them to’ too frequently? (This is something I’m super guilty of…)

Check your facts

If you set this story in the real world, make sure you double check all of the real world facts and situations you put your characters in. Is it possible for your characters to get from Point A to Point B in the time you say they do? If the locations your characters visit are real, do you have the details correct? If you’re writing about a culture or situation you haven’t experienced first hand, are you getting those details right?

If you set your story in a world you made up, are your details consistent? Are you following the rules you set for your world? Are you sticking with the ‘facts’ you established for yourself and your world?

It can be hard to get everything 100% correct and accurate, but you should do your very best to try.

Check your writing (aka editing)

Once you finish rewriting and making changes, and have all of the details in your story in place, you can finally worry about your word choice, grammar, and sentence structure. I highly recommend not worrying about this until the last step. This way, you won’t waste time polishing something you end up trashing or rewriting.

Implementing the changes

As you go through each section, make a list of the problems in your book, then go back through your story and tackle them one problem at a time. You might want to start with a free write or brainstorm before you start writing out the changes. I’m planning on doing a full post on how to make a revision plan, so keep an eye out for that if this is something you’re interested in hearing more about!

I hope this helps take the pressure off revision!

Keep in mind, that these are just some tips that I’ve found helpful. Play around with them. Don’t be afraid to change them up and make them your own! And if you’re wondering how to tell if your book is finished, check out this post!

Now it’s your turn: How do you approach revision? What works really well for you? What do you struggle with? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

Pin It Up!