Hello! I am doing a series that is all about revising books and I hope you’ll check out the other posts.
This is the second part of the series, and you can find the first part here.
Today I’m going to be talking about exactly how I revise a book, from the moment I get an editorial letter to “The End.”
I’m going to preface this post with the disclaimer I give every single group of students I teach: no writing process is going to work for everybody. Take every piece of advice you come across with a grain of salt, including and especially mine. I am not here to tell anyone how to write, or what you should or shouldn’t do. Everything I say or do is from my own experience, which is specific to me.
That being said, I’ve found it helpful in the past to read about how other writers work. Sometimes I’ve adopted their techniques into my own process, but if I see something that doesn’t suit me, I leave it. And I encourage you to do the same!
So, without further ado, here we go!
- The edit letter arrives. I read it through once and feel varying degrees of dread, horror, shame, and the inevitability of my failure as a professional writer. THIS IS NORMAL TO FEEL. It’s never easy to receive a 5-15 page letter about everything that is wrong with your book, no matter how kindly and gently it is written, because you’re literally getting hit with it all at once.
- I read the letter through again, and then I put it away. I allow at least 24 hours to sit with the feedback and let it sink in. I recommend sleeping on it, because things always seem less dire when you’re well-rested. Sometimes, if it’s a particularly big edit, I’ll let the letter sit for a whole weekend. I need time to process the suggestions, and figure out what I do or don’t agree with.
- I make a list. There’s something comforting about lists, or maybe that’s just me. I go through the edit letter yet again, and I pull out every suggestion in it – from major ones to smaller line edits – and put them into short, sweet bullet points. When I’m finished, I will have a one-page laundry list of things that the other person thinks I ought to address.
- I figure out what I agree with. Often, but not always, there will be changes that don’t sit well with me, either because they would take the book in a direction I don’t want to go or they simply don’t resonate with me. I will sometimes schedule a chat with whoever gave me the edits to get clarification, or just email them questions. But after that, usually by the end of the day, that laundry list will be even more condensed and cohesive.
- I read through my manuscript. I don’t edit. I just read the whole thing through in its entirety like I’m reading a book. (Which I technically am, but you know what I mean – a book for pleasure). Along the way, I will jot down notes with a pen and notebook: things that stick out that I want to change, sections that echo the edits in the letter, scenes I need to rework, etc.
- As I read, I type up an outline in Word. I draft with an outline, but it always changes during the process, so my book will generally be different when it’s in completed rough draft form. I’ll type “Chapter One” and put 3-4 lines about what happens in that chapter, and so on. Then I’ll print out the whole outline (usually around 15-20 pages) and lay it all out on my office floor.
- When finished, I pick out 4-5 different colors of sticky notes. I use a lot of Post-Its when I’m revising. There’s something about putting pen to paper and physically moving the stickies around that really helps me. I decide what color means what, and this changes depending on my mood. For the last manuscript I revised, blue was world-building, pink was characterization, orange was plot, green was line edits, and standard yellow was everything else.
- I write my edits on the sticky notes. I take that laundry list I made and the notebook where I jotted down all my thoughts while reading, and I go through them, top to bottom. I write the world-building edits onto the blue stickies, characterization edits onto the pink stickies, and so on.
- I put the post-it notes on my printed outline. I stick them wherever those edits are supposed to go, or where I’d like them to be. This always changes as I begin revising, but it gives me a good place to start. By the time I have stuck down every post-it note, I will see my entire book laid out on my office floor, with every edit I need to make, exactly where I need to make it.
- I gather up the pages of my outline and work from Chapter One. I’m a very methodical, organized writer, and I work from beginning to end. It’s so helpful to take one page of my outline a day and glance at what happened in that chapter, as well as what I need to change in that chapter. It also helps me make goals and hit them as I go; I can say, “I want to edit Chapters 1-5 by the end of the week” and then I’ll try to get through that many pages of the outline.
As I said before, this process is not going to work for everyone. But it’s the technique I’ve used for the last five books I’ve written, so I think I’m going to keep it! Hope this look into my revision method gives you an idea of how I tackle edits, and perhaps inspires you to try parts of it yourself (or confirms that what you’re doing works for you)!
This is the second post of a five-part series on revisions. Here’s the schedule for the remaining posts:
Wednesday, October 23: Getting Eyes On Your Work – I will talk about why a rough draft is important, and how to find the right eyes for your manuscript, whether those belong to a critique partner (CP), a beta reader, or an expert reader. I’ll also talk about cultivating a CP relationship that works for all parties.
Friday, November 22: Making Edits Manageable – I’ll discuss what to do when you get your edit letter (and how that sense of fear and dread when you get it is NORMAL) and how to break it and your book up into chunks, to make the whole process a little bit more enjoyable for yourself in addition to being productive.
Monday, December 16: In the Public Eye – I’m going to talk about handling feedback and reviews as an author and a public figure, and how to deal with your book being out there and all the opinions/viewpoints that ensue!
Hope to see you in October!