Revving up for revision


I am not one for going into situations unprepared. I love to plan–I have backup plans, and backup-to-the-backup-plans. When I teach, I make sure to have at least two backup lesson plans, if not three backup plans, plus a sure-fire, “fun” lesson plan in my back pocket for the occasion where students might not respond to anything I throw at them. (p.s. this only extends to my “work”–when I’m on vacation, I go without nary a list of things to do or schedule!)

Still, I plan in order to gain a sense of security, despite knowing that plans do not cover all bases–because I know that once I enter my classroom, I’m walking that high wire without a net. If I don’t listen to my students, and don’t think on my feet in response, there is no way any sort of plan will save me from rebellion. Oftentimes, I deviate from plan with verve. So much of teaching is intuitive.

My friend Elizabeth tweeted the following link detailing Zadie Smith’s lesson on craft: Are you a macro planner or a micro manager in your writing? Intrigued by these two approaches to writing a novel draft, I clicked.

According to the summary of Zadie Smith’s craft lecture, I’m a macro planner, someone who organizes everything in advance–so much so, that I can start writing from anywhere in the novel (at a certain point, I started skipping around with my chapter-writing, because I had such a clear vision of my structure). At first I ventured out without a plan at all, and then swam back to shore, before I drew up a plan that finally got me across the finish line.

Micro managers do not start with a grand plan, their novels only existing “in the present moment,” written from the beginning to the last word, not knowing what the ending will be until she gets there. (Not me. Might be you?)

Still, like my teaching, so much of my novel writing is intuitive. While I have a clear idea of structure and have an outline, at a certain point in the story, my novel tells me what to do. My characters rebel against my dictatorship and go on strike resisting what I tell them to do until I let them do what they need to do; for example, if they’ve been miserable, I have to let them do something fun. There’s a lot of negotiation going on–and it is at that point of the novel, where I begin to experience a lot more joy in my writing.

This is all to say that..I’m gathering together a sort of plan before I start my revision. I’m a plan-in-advance kind of girl, one who, after a certain point, is more than willing to throw away her plans and go off intuition….but in general, I really do need a plan to start. And this is all new. So I’m feeling freaked out. One of my writing mentors told me that the “real writing” occurs in revision and that too, is freaking me out, because the first draft was hard enough to achieve.

(Also freaking me out is how a Famous-Writer-who-has-won-many-prestigious-awards told me he never revises–he just writes the novel from scratch). But I will ignore that. I will.

Here are things I know to do:

  1. I’ve printed my manuscript out, in hardcopy.
  2. I need a pen–to mark up the manuscript, and to jot down things like continuity errors in a notebook.
  3. A deadline. (I hear a novel can take 2 weeks to revise–others say a month? Spring is busy for me, so I’ll be taking longer than 2 weeks to revise).
  4. I’ll read the manuscript all the way through. I’ll indicate sections that are good, sections that need work.
  5. Definitely mark sections that seem expository and go back and provide details.
  6. I’ll examine character/s: do they each have a purpose for being in the story? Do they make their exits and entries in a sensical way? If they change, is there a sensical reason for their change?
  7. I’ll examine theme/story: I don’t have to resolve every single conflict/mystery, but are most of them resolved by the end of the novel?
  8. Does each scene matter? Are there are least three reasons for the scene to exist?
  9. Examine language closely. Do the characters speak in consistent ways throughout? Is the narration unique, free of clichés…? Are their vivid verbs and nouns?
  10. Mark BIG continuity errors in the notebook or with a different colored pen. (i.e., make sure the character lives in the same place throughout–that the building is the same)
  11. Where does the story drag? That’s where my writing’s flat.
  12. Where does the story move too quickly?
  13. To be continued….

My novel manuscript awaits my return, sitting in an envelope. Soon, soon, soon!



Filed under Revising, The Novel, Writing

7 responses to “Revving up for revision

  1. I was in a workshop last year in which the professor (visiting) also did not claim to revise. I’m also ignoring that.

    Thanks for talking about your revision process. I’m not there yet, but it’s nice to see that it can be broken down into manageable tasks.

  2. I’m a big planner, too – and a big reviser. In fact, the actual writing part is just a small part in the middle of the novel writing process!

    Anybody who claims not to revise is either a genius or a liar. Most writers I’ve seen interviewed admit to doing plenty of it. John Irving once said “Writing IS rewriting.”

    As for 2 weeks, though? Good luck, but it would take me 2 weeks to stop obsessing over the first paragraph. (Maybe that’s my problem?!)

  3. Love reading about other writer’s revision processes. Thanks for posting yours, and for the Zadie Smith link.

    I expect my revision to take three months. Seems I’m a micro manager when I write but a macro planner when I revise.

  4. Thanks for this revision list. As I’m sure you know, I find revision scary and overwhelming. I never know where to begin! But it looks like you have a good, sensible plan. I’ve never heard a published author deny revising…that’s interesting. Usually the story is the opposite: “I rewrote the novel X times…” Kind of the authorly equivalent to “I walked uphill five miles in the snow.”

  5. Jo

    I’m a lousy planner. I generally have an end in mind when I start writing something, be it a novel, a short story or even a blog, but by the time I reach it the plan is out the window because the words wrote themselves into something different. (I once had a horror story about something in the woods eating children turn into a sci-fi where people were all physically connected to the internet *shrugs*)

    But, that kind of writing means I have to go really heavy on revision. It took me a month on my own, and then I had an editor/beta reader/english nazi go through the chapters and she was much slower (but free!) so it took longer for the final version. I reread it several times, each time concentrating on only a couple of things, like typos or awkward phrasing, verses the feel or the pacing, or whether I explained where so and so’s shoes went to, or whether the beginning and end even worked together, etc.

    I’d think having the story planned from the beginning would eliminate some of that, though 🙂

    Good luck!

  6. Pingback: January writing links, the fiction edition « Fog City Writer

  7. Stephannie Beman

    I wanted to thank you for this post last night, but my Internet connection wasn’t reliable and my nice reply was lost to cyberspace. I just wanted to thank you for the post and the links.

    I’m a marco planner, my detailed outlines for novels allow me to start any any point and still allow for surprises. Good luck on your revisions. They would have to be my least favorite. 🙂

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