Once More With Feeling

I hate revising.  I put it off by doing everything else possible – I clean the bathrooms, fold laundry, ask for more freelance work, write my blog posts in advance.  The cleanliness of my house is inversely proportional to how much I need to revise, and man, is my house clean right now.

My office is a whole other affair.  Want to see?  Here:

And the piles just keep growing...

It seems so grossly unfair, doesn’t it?  You write, and write, and write, get the words down perfectly (at least in your head) and then, are you finished?  Nope.  You have to write them all over again.  So, in the interest of procrastinating some more, I thought I’d share my process with you.

1) Every time I sit down to write, I start at the beginning of the chapter I’m working on.  I read through slowly, often out loud, changing a word here or a sentence there, until I get to where I left off.

2) Every 50 pages or so, I go back to the beginning of the book and do the same thing.

3) When I get to about 150-200 pages, wherever I have a natural break but also feel confident enough to keep writing, I do a more serious revision, which is where I am now.  I print out the whole manuscript, sit down with a new pack of sticky notes, and read through the entire thing.  Every time I have a question, think something could be made more clear, find a plot hole, etc. I write a comment down on the sticky and slap it on that page.

4) I break the manuscript up into chapters, put each chapter on the floor, and add any feedback I might have received that deals with that section of the book.  Digression:  I have awesome beta readers, who shall remain anonymous, but whose critiques I really trust, and who write me notes like: “ACK, LIZ ACK THIS IS THE TOTALLY WRONG PLACE FOR THIS.  WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!!!!!  and in general whip me into shape.  We write completely different genres, which I think helps, and they are  more than generous with their time.  I’m very, very lucky.

Further digression:  I send my beta readers 50 pages at a time.  One reader works very well like this, and one of them seems to prefer to read the whole thing at a stretch, so I tend to value the latter’s opinion more once the whole manuscript is finished.  Both of them totally rock, and I liken their comments to getting a really good deep tissue massage — it hurts like crazy when you are going through it, but it makes everything so much better later on.  I’d be lost without them. My agent, too, is fabulous and gives me terrific feedback, although he respects my delicate writerly feelings and usually refrains from writing ACK in the margins.  (That’s only because he’s super professional.  There’s no doubt at times he must be thinking exactly that.)

5) I go through each chapter, taking into account my notes and my beta’s feedback, and make the necessary changes.  Around this time, it starts to be kind of fun, like putting together a puzzle and wondering if you have all the pieces. Any changes I can’t make in that chapter but that I feel need to be done somewhere, or that relate to a larger plot point, go on a sticky note and are posted at eye level above my desk, where they stare accusingly at me each time I sit down to write until I make the changes, at which point I happily throw them away.

6) Once I’ve gone through all the chapters, I check the wall for any outstanding notes, address them if necessary, and then read through from the beginning again to check for typos, continuity, etc. etc. etc..

7) I write another 150 pages, wash and repeat.

This time around I’m also making brief summaries of each chapter on index cards, placing them on top of the pile, and trying to evaluate how much action takes place in each chapter, and then in each segment.  (I’d tried doing this on notecards in Scrivener, but it wasn’t working very well and I was using it as a major procrastination tool, so I stopped and went the old-fashioned method.)

So that’s what I’ll be doing over the next few days.  How do you revise?

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Liz Michalski


  1. Vaughn Roycroft on January 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Your post reminded me of something I once read about Tolkien (one of our common favorites). They say he typed out entire drafts, starting over completely each time he got stuck–“like waves crashing on the beach, until they smoothed the stones of story,” or some such thing. It’s no wonder LoTR is one for the ages.
    I’m revising right now, too. Yeah, and I’m over here procrast… er, I mean, commenting on your blog, learning and sharing craft tips. 😉 Keep those valuable betas happy. Buy them dinner or a nice bottle of wine. They sound like keepers.

    • liz on January 11, 2012 at 9:53 am

      I can’t imagine revising before computers, Vaughn. We are so lucky. And forget the wine for the betas — I think we need it right now!

  2. Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) on January 10, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    That’s the sum total of your sticky posts? Holy smokes you have clean copy by this stage.

    I wrote a reasonably clean first draft until 50% of this WIP. Then I started to have to write it as a mosaic. I’ve had so many rough starts and wrong starts for these recent scenes that I’ve given up on editing for the moment, thinking there’s no point futzing with what will end up being tossed. I’m not sure it’s working, though, because when I read my other scenes to get continuity and ideas, I am mortified by the writing. In other words, I don’t know my process yet, except to persist. I’m in awe of people who can clearly articulate theirs.

    • liz on January 11, 2012 at 9:51 am

      Jan, I think persisting IS the process. Everything else is just bells and whistles. Good luck with it.

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