My Story Revision Process: An Inside Look

The other day I gave you an inside look at my story creation process, from idea seed to published novel. I’m working through this process right now, as I finish the revisions on my debut novel. So I thought I’d give you an inside look at the specific details of this process, too.

I wrote my (not so) shitty first draft in two months and then let it sit for three months. Once I was ready, I got back to working on the story.

Let me start by saying that I use one of those accordion folders to keep track of all my rewrite stuff. I print a copy of my draft out, and then split it into the four parts of story. Each part goes into a different section in the folder. This is also where I store my scene cards (index cards) and the notebook I use in step 2 of this process (see below).

Here’s how my revision process goes down, along with time estimates for how long each step took me:

1. Read through the entire draft, in one sitting (3 hours)

I like to do this first read-through without a notebook and pen. Torturous, I know. But think it’s really important to read the draft as a whole, before tearing it all apart.

2. Read the draft again, red pen and notebook nearby (2 weeks)

Now I read it again and this time I make tons and tons of notes. I write all over the draft with my red pen and I use my notebook to track everything that needs to be fixed.

I organize my notebook into four sections: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four (just like the four parts of story). That way I can keep track of my notes and which part of the story they deal with.

Sometimes I even read the draft a few times, looking for errors, things that don’t make sense, etc. I’m very thorough with this step because this step is the core of my entire revision process.

3. Create a post-draft beat sheet (15 hours)

Next thing I do is make a list (beat sheet) of every scene that I have in the current draft. You can’t revise until you know what you have to work with.

This is a crucial step because it allows me to get an overview of the story I’m working from.

4. Review the post-draft beat sheet (10 hours)

I take a look at the beat sheet to determine what needs to be:

  • Deleted
  • Added
  • Moved around
  • Fixed
  • Changed

I make notes and draw arrows all over this beat sheet. In this step I’m doing a lot of reconfiguring of my story.

And I was able to tear through this step pretty quickly because of how much planning and development I did ahead of time.

5. Create a new beat sheet (3 hours)

Yes, I actually do this step twice. Not because I have to, but because I prefer to work from a clean beat sheet that doesn’t have red markings all over it. You can always skip this step if you don’t mind them.

6. Put together scene cards (2 weeks)

Now I take the new beat sheet and I actually write up individual index cards for each scene.

On these scene cards I include the mission of the scene (what it’s purpose is in the story), when and where it takes place, and any notes I have for what needs to be included or mentioned in the scene.

6.5 Inspiration strikes, make more changes (2 weeks)

So this isn’t a step you have to follow either, but I’m putting it in here because it’s an extra step that I had as I started working through the revisions on my current novel. I was having a hard time connecting an important piece of information in the story, and so I kept brainstorming as I worked on the scene cards.

And then something hit me. An idea for how to connect the information that didn’t feel quite right yet.

Totally awesome when this happens… but it meant I had to re-work my scene cards again, adding in new scenes, removing scenes and making sure everything synced up.

7. Start rewriting (2 months)

Finally I felt confident that everything in my story flowed and was cohesive. It was time to start rewriting.

And since I planned so much ahead of time, I was able to use about 65 to 70 percent of what I already had in my first draft.

So my rewriting has been a lot of cutting and pasting from my old draft to my new one, and then filling the gaps and making the changes that needed to be made.

I am a pen-and-paper kind of writer when I’m planning and developing, and also when I’m in “reconfigure” step. Once I’m ready to do the writing, I use Scrivener. I love how it allows me to keep everything organized and write one scene at a time (which also helps me avoid distractions that come from writing in a Word document).

Three Things That Made the Biggest Difference For Me

To wrap things up, here are the three things that made the biggest difference for me during this revision process:

1. Having A Process to Follow–revisions can go on forever unless you have a process for knowing what needs to happen and about how long it might take. Having a process for me to follow made the rewrites a whole lot more streamlined.

2. Not Being Attached–during the revision process, you’ll be making a lot of changes. And you have to be open to that happening, otherwise you’ll never finish. You do this by not being attached to the story.

You have to be willing to let go of things that just aren’t working, in order to make the story better.

3. Be Open and Willing to Call It Done–again, revisions could go on forever if you wanted them to. So you have to be open to getting inspired as you work through the process, just as long as you know when it call it done.

I could have spent another two weeks revising my beat sheets or scene cards, but I knew that the story was in a really good place and it was time to write. Plus, once I’m finished with the rewrites, I will go back through and focus on one scene at a time, adding description, making sure things are cohesive and that all the pieces connect.

My revision/rewrites process has taken me almost four month (so far).

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