A Look Into My Revision Process

I started work on Draft Two of the sequel to CAMBION’S LAW yesterday! My editor has given a thumbs up to my revision synopsis, which was definitely NOT a thing I wrote to procrastinate starting the actual revision. She gave me some great feedback to chew over and incorporate, as well. And now…I’m out of excuses. (Note that the sequel is not sold yet! This is not a scoop! But my publisher does have an option on it and I want to yeet them something good.)

I was also running dry on blog post ideas this week. As a result, I’ve decided to share my revision process so far and what I have planned for the next month and a half! EXCITING.

This will probably be mostly jokes because I wrote the Very Serious Headings, then went and wrote 2713 words, and now my brain has entered the state that my husband lovingly calls “Froot Looping” or “The Loop” for short.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer says, My brain isn't really functioning on the higher levels.
Fire bad. Tree pretty.

Step 1: The Hard Copy Read

This is what it says on the tin. I print out the full manuscript while crying about the souls of the trees I have killed. (I print it double-sided, though, so I only killed half as many as I could have.) Then I sit on the couch, usually with a cat slathered on top of me “helping,” and read through the whole trash fire from start to finish while making notes in the margins.

My therapist told me to stop writing “meh” in my margin notes, so now I write notes like “thank god I remembered to describe somebody” and “theme but make it clumsy” and “NEEDS MORE SEX THINGS.” Ok and one time I wrote “It’s a meh from me” which was definitely following the letter but not the spirit of the law. But sometimes “meh” really is the best you can say.

Flaming dumpster floating down a flooded street
Sometimes it’s the NICEST thing you can say.

I also write “this part is good” where warranted and draw hearts when characters give me feelings and underline sentences I like, because I’m not a monster.

Step 2: Revision To-Do List/Edit Letter

This is a new step for my self-edits! The last two revision projects I had were Pitch Wars and content edits on CAMBION’S LAW, so I had edit letters from very smart people to guide me. This was especially satisfying when I got to cross or check things off as done and gave me a better idea of my progress on revisions, which is usually distressingly difficult to quantify.

This time I got the bright idea of writing MYSELF an edit letter so I could cross things off. What I didn’t anticipate is how much work this would be, so I only appreciate my mentor and editor even more now.

Sweet himbo asks, How did you do it?

Predictably, my self-edit letter is a little chaotic, but I think it gets the job done. A nice thing that this allowed me to notice was that many of my random notes in the printed manuscript built on or repeated each other and reinforced some other plot ideas I had been thinking about. I think overall this did bring more coherence to my revision plan despite being a little bit brain-dumpy. I was also able to solve some problems with my main character’s internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts.

Step 3: The Spreadsheet of Doom

Despite being an avowed and inarguable Chaos Muppet, I have in the last year had mine eyes opened to the glory of the Excel-based novel outline. I used one of these for my last draft of this book, but unfortunately I found having too detailed of an outline while still drafting caused as many problems as it solved. However, now that I have a near-complete manuscript, it is time for the Spreadsheet of Doom to shine.

It’s pretty much the only time I look organized.

The Spreadsheet of Doom is designed to be a post-draft reverse outline more than a pre-draft planning tool. As I learn more craft things (technical term there) and refine my process better, the columns and features of the Spreadsheet wax and wane. I have incorporated some spreadsheet setup from the Story Grid archives, specifically Anne’s Giant Novel Spreadsheet Template, but I honestly don’t understand all of Story Grid’s plot theories (emotional valence who?!) so this time around, some of those columns that I had conveniently hidden throughout the last round have been bahleted. If it doesn’t help, nix it.

Mostly, my spreadsheet contains columns for expected, previous draft, and current draft word counts and word count percentages. I also track these against beats to make sure the story is moving along at more or less the correct speed.

Step 4: Set Up Scrivener Scene Cards

I do all my novel writing in Scrivener, so an important part of the new draft ritual is consigning the old draft to its own folder outside the Scrivener manuscript folder and creating an all-new sandbox to play in. Nothing is ever thrown away, and in this case I will likely be moving over a fair amount of the old draft into the new one, but I like to start with a clean slate.

I usually do this by duplicating the old manuscript, moving the original into a different folder, than deleting the text documents in the duplicate. Probably not the most efficient method, but it means I get to keep my chapter titles, which are carefully chosen and mostly inside jokes for me. If I’m feeling extremely ambitious I will also fill in the scene descriptions from my Spreadsheet of Doom.

This time, I filled in the Act 1 scene descriptions from the Spreadsheet of Doom and then got bored, so I stopped. This is why I am not a Plotter. I will probably go back once I have Act 1 done in this draft and fill it out further but I make NO PROMISES. Anything could happen.

Flaming Elmo

Step 5: Set Timeline and Goals

This is very important to my process, because I am motivated by fear of failure and self-imposed deadlines. I have a tab in my Spreadsheet of Doom that I use to track my daily word count, and figuring out how many words I need to spit out by what date really helps me understand the nature of the challenge ahead.

I discovered last month that setting a low goal (20k in 31 days) does not result in me staying ahead of my goal. I was still behind to a proportional degree as I approached month’s end. I had fewer words to write to catch up, but the lower goal prompted me to slack. That was ok because it was my “break month,” but I am no longer on break!

I am not telling you what my goal is for this revision because y’all will think I am making poor life choices. However, it is definitely more than 20k in 31 days.

Mila Kunis shrugs and says "I'm normal"
There are 24 usable hours in every day, thank you.

Step 6: Write the Damn Thing

Wait. I thought step 6 was “cry a lot”?!

I had planned to do more planning before starting this revision. The problem for me is, I soon start to feel like planning is just stalling. Sure, I could do detailed character sheets for everyone or whatever. But wouldn’t the best way to delve deeper into character just be…writing the damn book?

These are discovery writer problems and why I almost never have a complete outline before I start any project, even a revision. And it wouldn’t matter if I did have a complete outline anyway, because I will likely deviate from it at the first opportunity to add something cool I just thought of.

small child does a wheelie in a toy Jeep with the text LET'S GO

And we’re off! I got a shockingly good start yesterday and wrote the new opening chapter. After feeling not so good about my last draft, it’s a nice change. It’s always harder for me to push out words during the week, and I will certainly fall behind, but at least I’m ahead of my goal words already.

3 thoughts on “A Look Into My Revision Process

  1. Glad to have stumbled across this post, because I’m at the editing stage of one manuscript and even though I’ve done this a few times before, I’m still feeling pretty lost and apprehensive about what I have ahead of me. You’ve also given me a great resource with the reverse outline link too. Thanks for this, Erin!

    Liked by 1 person

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