Revision: some first thoughts

One of my friends has heard me mentioning that I’m revising various things, over the last year, and asked me to talk about my process a little more here. So I’m going to do that, probably in more than one blog post. Here’s where I want to start:

This is not advice. This is talking about what I do. Most advice is actually that anyway; most advice is just talking about finding your own characteristic problems and how to fix them. So if you read advice that says, “make a list of your overused words and do a search on them before you turn in the final draft,” what that’s actually saying is, “I, this particular author, find that I overuse certain words and don’t tend to catch them other ways, so here’s one way I’ve found to do it.”

I do that. I absolutely do that. I keep a list of bland and overused words, and I add to it when I notice a new one. One of the words on my list? “thing.” Because “something,” “nothing,” “anything,” and “thing” can often all be replaced by more vivid ways of saying that…uh…thing.

But the other thing people are doing when they give advice–on revision or on whatever else–is working around their own characteristic aversions. So when you see advice that says, “Print out your manuscript and highlight each sentence in a color that says what it’s doing: pink for setting, yellow for dialog…,” what you know is: that author has not burned their manuscript, fled screaming, and stopped along the way to file paperwork changing their name and pasting on a false mustache (or possibly shaving off their previous true mustache) on the way to leaving the state.

Which I would, I absolutely would. If I need to change the balance of elements in scenes, I need to do it in some other way than that, because highlighting scenes in that way will make me hate the entire story and also just plain not do it. Anything that makes you not do the work is the wrong tool, even if it helps someone else do the work beautifully. There is no objectively universally right tool, there is just something that gets the work done, or else not.

Lists are great for me. Other people do not work well with lists. I know this from observation. I can’t explain it, but I accept it, because insisting that other people’s brains work like my brain is silly. So. Lists. What kind of lists. I mentioned the overused words one.

Well, here’s where the project notebook comes in: when I know that a chapter needs something revised into it, I will put that further down the page in a different color of ink than the plot notes for that chapter, with a checkbox next to it, to be checked off when I get it done. Do the ink colors have meaning? Not for me, no; they mean “I can see that this is a different thing than the thing above it.” So if I happened to outline the book in L’Amant, which is a deep and lovely purple, revision notes can be in any shade of red or green or blue I happen to have on hand. (I mostly don’t work in orange or yellow.) Because then I can spot them as “not done yet.” And subsequent revision notes should probably go in another color–if the first round was Ink of Naotora (spoiler: it was), that’s a deep red, and the next round should be something else so it jumps out on the page and I can flip through the pages and quickly check which chapters have a revision note on them that hasn’t been checked off.

Then there’s the list at the end of the notebook of things that I know I want to do but I don’t know where yet, or things that need to be threaded throughout. These things, like “bring up more botanical mentions” or “protag defensiveness about town size” are going to take longer to check off the list, and the way that I do those revisions will be structured differently than adding a particular plot mention in Chapter 7. But either way, I have the lists, I can look at the lists, I don’t have to keep track of it all because there are lists and I know where the lists are. I have the lists, and I have the actual scribbled on line-edit pages. So that’s what I have for keeping track of revisions. Will that work for you? I don’t know, my friend might have meant to ask what will work for her but she actually asked what I do, and that’s what I actually know.

And I do have more to say on how I do revisions, and lo, I was right, that’ll be another post!

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