One of the biggest things I struggled with when I started taking writing seriously was the revision process. By nature and default, I write the story without a plan and let it go where it will. Coupling that with the fact that I’m constantly getting new ideas and I’ve taught myself to write a rough draft pretty quickly. I have a constant stack of rough drafts that I’m pretty much always adding too. The big problem for me is that when I’m ready to move from rough draft to next draft, I always feel like I’m staring at a pile of words and wondering where to start.
Writing being what it is and being so highly subjective, there isn’t going to be a guide on ‘do this next’ that suits every writer every single time. However, while trying to figure out where my revision processes was the slowest, I ended up with a list of steps I usually take. While this won’t necessarily fit every person, if you’re wondering ‘what next’ this might give you some ideas of your own on where to head next.
Notes are a huge thing for me. Before I actually start editing, I read through the whole draft and make notes about edits I want to make. Usually I do these by hand and have my own short-hand for it (+ to add something, – to take it out, ~ for changing something completely). This way I can get a good overview of where I’m at and where I want to be.
A Character List is the next step. I do this so I don’t forget anyone, and so I can mark down who is playing for the protagonist, the antagonist, or themselves. Typically I leave enough space that I can jot down what their goal and motivation is. This makes it easy to see if I have hidden conflicts I haven’t touched on, or if I have solid reasoning for two characters to be opposing each other.
Because I use outlines only after I’ve done the first draft, Plot Breakdowns help me check to make sure my conflicts and resolutions don’t have gaping holes in them. Although I’ve used the standard plot structure (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution) to do this before, I’ve also found another method focused on the conflicts rather than the events that works better for me (I’ll cover that method in another post, so keep any eye out for it!).
With my characters and plot done, it’s time to make the Outline. I try to do this based on memory of the rough draft and with the information in the plot breakdown and from the notes. This makes it easier to limit extraneous scenes from the rough that either didn’t pan out or that just don’t fit in with the plot properly, as well as give myself a roadmap of changes I need to make while rewriting scenes.
Once all of that’s done, it’s time to tackle the next draft. At this point I actually create a new document and work side-by-side the original. This way if I come across a phrase or sentence I like, I can copy and paste directly into the new draft while cleaning up any questionable word choice as I go.
This doesn’t hold true on every single project I’m working on. Series are a little more involved because I also need to make sure the series arc itself makes sense and progresses. On occasion I’ve also come across a draft that needs a lot more work than just listed above–things like just finding the main plot, changing or reducing the number of view points, possibly even revamping the initial idea. In this case I may have to just work off the notes I’ve made and rewrite most if not all of the initial draft.