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English: Whitman's notes for a revision of &qu...

I finished my SpoNoWriMo novel! Topping out at about 56,000 words, it’s not long. Regardless of its brevity or its chaos, though, it still feels good to write THE END on a new story. From what I can tell, it’s a great feeling for everyone (who wouldn’t want to finish a whole story?) Now I’ve reached the point where I need to figure out what I’m going to do about the mess that is my manuscript.

Oh dear. Revision.

I generally enjoy the revision process. I like rewriting prose, moving chunks around, and otherwise improving the work. I like watching the manuscript grow and shrink like some convoluted chemical reaction.

But I have a bad habit of getting stuck in the revision stage. I spent 5 years revising my 1st ms, then 4 years revising my 3rd, until the latest draft held only the barest resemblance to the first. Excessive much? I tend to write a story quickly, then revise it for the next several years until I realize that the inherent problem is not one that’s going to be fixed by rehashing the same story over and over, but rather something that needs to be addressed by going out and writing new things and learning more about story crafting. Thus the original purpose of this SpoNoWriMo novel.

So I’ve set boundaries on my revision for this project. I want to learn from the revisions, but not get stuck in them, so hopefully the following will limit my revising impulses.

  1. Make a list. Lists! I love making lists. Start a new document, and make a list of things you already know need to be adjusted. Don’t change them yet–in fact, don’t change anything until step 5.
  2. Read the manuscript. I’ve heard a lot of advise to distance yourself a little from the work beforehand so you’re reading with fresher eyes, so I’ll probably give it a few weeks. Keep in mind the changes you already listed you’ll make. (For me, some of these changes are big, like changing the race and culture of one of the main characters.)
  3. Write out a good summary. I always do this before tackling the revisions; it helps me tie the story together better and gives me a good reference for where things are in the ms. Even when I outline (which I usually do), I always end up with some unplanned developments that I need to account for.
  4. Expand the list. While reading, make noteof what needs to be changed. List what needs to be foreshadowed earlier, what passages might work better in another place, and any little things you notice. Still, fight the urge to make changes now. Once you finish reading, make larger notes encompassing story.
  5. Revise. Chapter by chapter, take your list and address it in the ms.
  6. Distance, and re-read. Make note of anything glaring, or small edits. Make sure everything flows as (or as close as possible as) planned.
  7. Re-list. Make a new (hopefully much shorter) list of revisions or edits.
  8. Revise. Apply the new list to the ms.
  9. Copy-editing. The little stuff, like spelling, grammar, word usage, English stuff. The icing on the cake.
  10. Call it good. For this project, at least. Unless I decide I want to actually do more with it than just gain experience. At this point, I have no intentions of publishing this story.

So that’s my plan. I’ve never approached this stage of writing so concretely, so I have no idea how it will go. I’ll let you know how it goes.


What strategies do you use to revise? How do you decide whether to keep revising, or whether to call it “a great experience but we’re moving on now” manuscript?