Many of my writer friends appear to be in the middle of revising their manuscripts.  I can tell because they are making the noises I hear when I hurry past the waxing section of the salon.  To ease the sting, I thought I’d share how I revise these days.

First, go read this.  It is the most helpful revising strategy I have ever found — Elana Johnson is brilliant.  Her plan makes revising seem possible.  (Not painless, because no one is that brilliant, but possible.)

Back?  Okay.  So when I’ve finished a complete manuscript, I do what Elana suggests.  But I do mini-revisions every 100 pages or so.  I finish a 100 page section, send it off to my long-suffering and amazing beta reader, and while I’m waiting to hear from her, I go back 100 pages, revisit her comments on that section (much easier to do now that some time has passed) consult my own notes that I’ve scribbled off to the side, and whip that puppy into shape.  Around the time I’ve finished, beta reader extraordinaire will have sent back the newest segment.  I read through her comments, flag any that I need to keep in mind going forward, and stick the whole package in a deep, dark drawer to rest. (Or compost, depending how I’m feeling) until it’s that section’s turn for attention.  Then it’s off to write the newest section.

Sometimes a comment from my beta or an inspiration means going all the way back to the beginning.  For example, the manuscript I’m working on right now has several points of view, told in alternating chapters.  One character is not behaving, and I’ve just figured out why.  That means pulling out every chapter that’s told from her point of view and working on them together to make her voice more believable and her actions seamless.  (For stuff like this, I ‘m finally seeing the value of Scrivener.)

Revising in stages like this might not work for everyone, but I like feeling that my manuscript isn’t  an enormous mess when I type ‘the end’ — somehow chunking it as I go makes revising less intimidating.

How about you?  Do you revise in stages, at the end, or both?


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Liz Michalski


  1. vaughnroycroft on September 18, 2012 at 10:37 am

    First, great article from Elana. I read it quickly, but have it bookmarked.

    This is the first time I’ve broken a revision down into chunks, based on story-structure beats (from Cathy Yardley’s excellent book Rock Your Plot). Then I did a ‘Scene Outline’ judging each scene for its impact on Story Question. It was tough but worth it, now that I’m finally laying the scenes into place from the beginning.

    I know I’ve been making those ‘waxing room’ sounds thoughout. I don’t think I’ve whined so much about anything since my mom wouldn’t let me buy my friend’s mini motorcycle when I was 13.

    Thanks for the link and for sharing your process, Liz. It’s good to know I’m not alone (even if I’m the biggest whiner).

    • liz on September 18, 2012 at 12:01 pm

      Add my voice to the cries too, Vaughn — revising definitely isn’t fun. (Did you wind up buying a full-sized motorcycle later in life? That’s what I wound up doing when the ‘rents vetoed the pony.) Glad you found the link helpful. And I’m adding Rock Your Plot to my must-read list, since you aren’t the first one to recommend it to me.

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