Before we begin, I want to share a very important two part disclaimer. First, this process is going to vary writer to writer, and sometimes, project to project. The steps I’ll talk about in this series are based on the steps I follow now, which are the result of a lot of trial and error over the years based on a whole lot of different processes I’ve read about or seen used. Second, this process is about revising a manuscript for big picture/whole story fixes. This isn’t about line editing for grammar and/or punctuation mistakes.
Last year around this time I did a series about What is the Writing Process? as a way to consolidate and layout all of the information about the steps I take in my writing process. Since then I’ve wanted to do the same regarding my revision process. I’ve spent the last year working nearly entirely on my revision process and am excited to finally put together all of the information of what my revision process is.
The revision process begins, of course, with a complete manuscript. This means the complete current draft of the manuscript I want to revise which may or may not have been revised before. I make sure that the manuscript I’m working with has a complete beginning, middle, and end. The first step of this revision process begins with collecting feedback on my current draft. Now, when I first started out completing stories and working on revising stories, I did not start out collecting feedback from outside sources. This was partially because I was too nervous to share and partially because I hadn’t built the trusted relationships with fellow writers to share my manuscripts. Before I collected feedback from others, I worked on giving myself critical feedback. This worked out best when I set aside a manuscript for some time before going back to revise it in order to look at it critically with fresh eyes. I would take my manuscript and go through the draft looking for major plot holes, weak characters, rickety world-building details, and flawed/generic dialogue. I wouldn’t fix those things as I looked at them, but instead take notes about where those things happened in the manuscript and where they needed to be fixed. When I moved onto handing my manuscript over to my critique members or trusted friends for beta readers, I would do the same. I asked for feedback focused on the big picture problems that were either creating confusion in the story or leaving gaping holes in the plot. Once I’d collected all of the feedback, from myself, my trusted readers, or a combination of both, I would take time to ruminate on what that information meant to the story.
Contemplating the feedback I received would lead to two things. First, it would lead to my mind wandering down the paths that the questions or comments brought up about the story. I’d let myself question whether a character needed to have more time front and center of the story or if there was a moment where they needed to be involved in a scene they previously hadn’t been to showcase their stakes in the story more. I’d wonder about what was missing in my world-building and where I’d missed opportunities for my characters to show more about what they were seeing and experiencing as they went along. I would also make A LOT of notes about where characters needed to interact either more or differently than they had been before to show what their relationship and/or conflict was with each other. The second thing contemplating the feedback might lead to was the need to go back to my trusted readers with follow-up questions. Now, these follow-up questions were NEVER along the lines of “why didn’t you like it?” because NO, that is not what critical feedback is about. Critical feedback should help a writer dig deeper into the relationships, action, and world that they’ve created in a story and help them to understand where moments happen on the page that the information needed to do that well didn’t make it onto the page and is still stuck in the writer’s mind. Some of my follow-up questions would sound like, “I’m wondering what made you see this character and that character in this way?” or “I’m wondering what details struck you most about this scene/thing/etc that lead to this picture.” Questions that bring out more information about what lead a reader to feel/think/believe one way about the story help me as the writer to see what/how the details/information/scenes I created struck the reader as they were going along the story.
This first step in the revision process takes a lot of time and energy and stamina to get through. It’s the first moment where I remove myself from my writer’s seat as the creator of this world and these characters and view what I’ve created critically. It takes a lot of energy and strength to look at a scene or series of scenes and say, “that did not work” or “that character is really falling flat” and know that in order to create a better version of this story, those words were going to need to be revised or cut from the manuscript entirely. As writers, we put so much into our stories and it’s a big thing to be able to rip that story apart to make it better. I take a lot of time with this first step because I know I will have to get through all of the emotions and work that needs to be done here before I can focus on step two.
In case you haven’t been told today, you are more than enough.