Thursday, December 15, 2011

What does revision look like? (part II)

This week I'm sharing a snapshot of my revision process on Project Demo (see part I here). I'm talking about what precisely my revision looks like, my process, the emotional highs and lows... In short, why it's really hard to sum up revision!

So, last I blogged, I was hovering on the edge of despair. I had made a long list of everything wrong with my ending, and was convinced I would be revising Project Demo for another gazillion years.


I remembered Anne Lamott's lovely Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. For those of you unfamiliar with her book, here's the quote to which the title refers:

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was  ten years old at the time, was trying to get a  report on birds written that he'd had three months to  write. It was due the next day. We were out at our  family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen  table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper  and pencils and unopened books on birds,  immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my  father sat down beside him, put his arm around my  brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.'"

I told myself to stop hyperventilating, and just work on my ending, step by step, bird by bird, until I worked through my list of everything wrong with it. Maybe it would take a gazillion years. But maybe not. And I wanted to try.

So for the past week and a half I've been working through my list. And slowly but surely I'm beginning to cross things off.

For an in depth look at revision, here's what I did last Sunday:

  • Re-read chapter 32 to make sure Saturday's changes worked.
  • Added one sentence to chapter 34 to remind readers of a sub-plot character.
  • Added another sentence to clarify the main character's emotional motivation.
  • Reworded several paragraphs in chapter 34 so my additions flowed within the text.
  • Asked myself a hard question, paced while I thought about my answer.
  • Needed a break. Went back to the beginning of chapter 34 and added a sentence to clarify the day's date.
  • Other fiddly stuff: I found the appropriate accent mark for the name Jacqueline du Pré (a real life cellist mentioned in Project Demo). I did a project replace to switch all my Pre to Pré.
  • Discovered pressed had become Préssed. Did another project replace.
  • Found a place in the text where I could insert the answer to that hard question I had been pondering.
  • Worked a piece of information into some dialogue. 
  • Highlighted a piece of dialogue I wasn't sure a character would actually say so I could find it and think it through later.
  • Journaled a few more lines of dialogue, to clarify character motivation, then typed them in.
  • Asked myself a few more hard questions about what my character was feeling. I wrote the questions down, also to think about later.

That was 85 minutes. I stopped, closed my computer, and made breakfast.

It was only later that I realized my friend Keren on Twitter had been right to mention the fixing stage. The changes I'm making aren't massive. I'm not rethinking whole plots and characters. I'm just adding text, clarifying motivations... I'm doing the little stuff that makes a novel polished.

Remember that list? As of today I've crossed off about 75% of it. Does it work? I'm not sure, but I imagine it's closer to working. And I've still got to write in the changes to my magic system.

But maybe I will finish revising Project Demo sometime before a gazillion years have passed. Bird by bird. Until the next crisis of confidence.

Where are you at in your writing? Does my revision process look anything like yours?

Next week I'll be closing out the year on Critically Yours by sharing my end of the year reading statistics and announcing 2011's favorite reads. Can't wait until then? Here are 2009 and 2010's posts.


  1. Ooh! I *love* your end of year reading stats and favorite reads :-). Need to work on my own too ... maybe after the last batch of sugar cookies come out of the oven.

  2. Elisabeth: Thanks! I'm looking forward to pulling them together (in between Christmas cookie baking myself! ;) ).

  3. I would have spent 85 minutes changing Pre to Pré. :)

    Love reading about your process, and I'm looking forward to next week's reading lists. I kept a list of my books after reading your post last year.

  4. The same wonderful Anne Lamott also wrote about writing the sh---y first draft. I have yet to be able to work this way. Even my very first draft has to be 'pretty good.'
    But for the next step, putting one foot in front of the other is sound advice for revising.

  5. Oh my goodness. I so hear you on this! I'm pouring over my manuscript overanalyzing every word. Man.

  6. Oh, Anne. Haven't we all forgotten to define the Search & Replace parameters at one time or another! Usually on deadline...

  7. Bridgette: Hah! I'm a little ashamed to admit I was still finding a few Pre problems this morning, but I think it's finally all sorted!

    Ohhh, I'm so glad to hear you kept the reading list up! Are you going to do stats too?

    Mirka: Yep. The "sh---y draft" bit has been such a comfort to me over the years, too! I don't know why we need permission for these things, but it helps!

    Christina: It's so time-consuming, isn't it? Good and helpful, but it takes FOREVER! Good luck!

    Anne: Uh... I think I USUALLY forget to define search & replace parameters. Thankfully no deadline to speak of, though! ;)

  8. What's funny is that I have a similar list but it's for plotting a manuscript. I do tackle revisions in steps though, looking for different things in each run through.

  9. Kelly: I think tackling revision in steps is probably good for revision. It can so overwhelming to do everything at once. Though sometimes overwhelming to not do everything and realize there is still so much to do! ;)

  10. I'm on my umpteenth revision of a funny young YA for boys. My main problem is overwriting, so I've been trimming stuff off previously trimmed-down bits, tightening dialogue (and like you, working plot information into the dialogue in many places). I figure I'm somewhere past the eagle right now (falcons? finches?) but I've got some ways to go before I hit wrens.

    The main thing is to keep working. Once I stop, it gets harder and harder to keep the momentum going. It's a comfort to know I'm not in this alone -- :)

  11. Mary: Hah, I never thought about naming my bird level! Love it! I'm thinking, if we're going from big birds to small, I'm somewhere around crow. ;)

    It is a comfort to know we're in this together! And I think you're right. At this stage especially, best to just plow on through!


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