Revising

because just writing the novel isn't enough work

Created on February 6, 2021

I wrote a novel.

It's been nearly a month since I finished the first draft, and I'm just now ready to start the revision process. And as I type that, the "revision process", I'm immediately aware that I sound like I know what I'm talking about.

I do not know what I'm talking about. I do not know how to revise a novel. And really, is it "revising"? Or is it "editing"? I think it's "revising". The editing would be done by someone other than me, someone who didn't write all the words in the first place, someone who can think dispassionately about the words they are ever-so-rudely removing and changing from the piece of art I created. Also, ideally, someone who knows what they're doing and what they're talking about.

I do not know what I'm doing or what I'm talking about.

Ok...but...I did write a novel. I didn't know how to do that either when I started, and yet here I sit with a 133,000 word manuscript. That's right, 133,000 words. Oof, just typing it makes me realize I have to go read all those words now. I have to read them and fix them and rearrange them and whatever else needs doing.

All that whining aside, I do feel excited about the prospect of getting back into the story. I know there are gaps to fill, but there's also a very solid foundation now, which is different than when I started. I started with a thought, and then an outline, and then more thinking. But more thinking and an outline led to a first chapter, and then after that, 500 words per day got me to 133,000 words. So if I can do that, I can revise it, and I can finish it.

I thought it would be a good exercise to talk about the creation and evolution of that process, and to talk about how the novel progresses. Who knows, some folks might find this interesting after they've read the book. Maybe it will be helpful to other authors, who, like me, have no idea what they're doing or what they're talking about.

The Revision Challenge

The novel has 133,000+ words spread across 17 (wonderfully fast-moving and gripping) chapters. It is almost completely bereft of any descriptions of my characters' physical appearances or their backstories. To compound on this, I wrote only the most cursory of setting descriptions. That's right--it's plot, more plot, and then to round it out, an almost sole focus on plot.

So. I really have a couple of things to do as I revise:

  1. Make sure the words make sense, are spelled correctly, used correctly, and in general, are easily understood by someone not named Not a Pen Name (Matt).
  2. Do the hard part of writing that I kinda punted on while getting the story down the first time.

Many people would be overwhelmed by the herculean task I've described. I, as it turns out, was one of these overwhelmed people for the past three weeks.

No longer. This is happening now, and this is how I'm going to do it.

The Revision Process

We're going to use what I am naming a Multi-Phase Revision Process™, with those phases being:

  1. Phase 1: A chapter-by-chapter quick pass, where words will be examined, fixed, changed, and rearranged as necessary to make the original writing better. Very limited story changing will be done here. This will primarily be for language issues. However, during each chapter I will focus on: 1) Writing a one-paragraph summation of the chapter. 2) Writing an informal list of notes on things I'd like to change in subsequent phases.
  2. Phase 2: The Great Rearranging. I suspect that I need to have more than 17 chapters, and this is where that will happen. I'll probably split some chapters in half, and maybe a couple into thirds. I will consider outright removing chapters, too. This novel is long, and I fear that it's too long. Don't tell anyone, but I've been toying with the idea of cutting this novel at the ~ 100,000 word point and releasing that as Book 1, and then getting a head start on Book 2 with the remaining words. Oh, that's right, I decided to write a multi-book series on my first attempt.
  3. Phase 3: Write additional scenes or chapters as required. Even though I've just said that this novel is probably too long, I'm also aware that it...just starts. There's not a lot of backstory. It's quite possible that the readers will appreciate having some sort of idea as to what this story is about, why it's happening, and why they're reading it. So phase 3 will involve that kind of thing. I'm hoping that it's a minor, short phase.
  4. Phase 4: A chapter-by-chapter deeper pass, focusing on character and setting descriptions. As I wrote above, during the first draft I did only the minimal amount of work on this. Now is the time to add details and really describe who my characters are, what they look and sound like, and try to describe the world they're living in.

When I get through these four phases I'll be ready to turn it over to beta readers. I've only spoken to a couple of people about that so far, but I do feel that the book will greatly benefit if I can get 5-10 people to read this thing and give me some feedback.

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An Update on the Revising

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