A day in the life of revising a manuscript

November is NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. But while literally thousands of intrepid novelists are well on their way to their goal of 50,000 words, I’m neck-deep in the midst of revising the novel I started plotting in the fall of 2014.

I wonder if this is what it feels like to shoot a film. Hours of footage that have to be crafted into a coherent story. Endless editing of scenes to get them down to their essence. Cutting other scenes entirely. Realizing that even with all that’s been done, new scenes still need to be shot. Then going over it all again. And again.

In the last few months I’ve radically reconfigured my opening at least twice. Probably three times… maybe more! A pivotal moment at the end of the first act has been surgically removed and transported to its new home in the middle of the novel–as well as transposed to an entirely new physical location in the story, and most of the characters involved have been cut from the scene. So: pretty much a total rewrite. (Deep breath.) But not today.

I’ll pull back the curtain and give you a peak at what two cups of coffee and three hours at Coutume Café near Napoleon’s Tomb got me this morning (actually, this work carried over into lunch and then into yet another cup of coffee back home):

  • I gave one of my characters an addiction. Another one finally got a name—at least a provisional one (it’s a character I only started developing when I started revising the first draft).
  • I wrote yet another page of longhand notes on the what the main character is like.
  • Since writing a novel always means coming up against one’s own limited knowledge base, I compiled a list of questions related to astronomy, communication and satellite technology, etc. that I need to send off to a smart person.
  • Other tasks are mundane, but necessary to keep everything straight: I added a bunch of internal headings, not to be included in the final product, but to help me keep track of where all the pieces are.
  • I picked a few of the new scenes I’ve come up with that need to be added and started outlining them.
  • And, joy of joys, I actually even wrote actual words in actual scenes.

Revising isn’t for the faint of heart. But it’s worth it. Want to know more? Check out this fantastic post by Beth Hill at The Editor’s Blog for a great overview of how and why to revise.

As she says, “One small change can create the need for cascading changes throughout a manuscript.” Don’t I know it!


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