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On Revision: Follow Through

This week we’re talking about what comes after NaNoWriMo. We’re talking about looking ahead. We’re talking about finishing a book and revising a book and being a writer.

That’s three different processes, but all of them share the same three core, critical steps:

  • Write.
  • Take stock.
  • Follow through.

November made you write. Yesterday I talked about taking stock. Now it’s time to move into “follow through.”

Real Life

Following through can be the hardest part. As I said back in November, we all want to write, but when we sit down to actually do it we desperately want to do anything else. On top of that…there’s just so much!

How am I supposed to write a book? I dedicated to NaNoWriMo and all I could manage was 5,000 words. I mean, yeah, I had some things come up and it was a challenge, but still. 5,000 words! How can I ever finish a book?

Or maybe it’s this:

Sure, I wrote 50,000 words in November. I had to put my life and my job and my family and my education and my responsibilities on hold, but I did it. But…I wrote 50,000 words in November, and I’m still not done! How could I possibly finish?

Or maybe even this:

I finished a whole book in November. It took the life out of me, but I did it. And now what? Now I’m supposed to start working on getting it published (however I choose to go about that), and everyone says that involves editing and editing and editing. I just spent all this time writing my book, and now I have to find the time to redo the whole thing! And better! How on Earth?

The fact of the matter is that the work is never done. Even when you’re done facing that last round of problems, the best you have to look forward to is starting all over again from scratch on your next book.

Make a Plan (Creative Writing Exercise)

The lovely Kelley, writing at a coffee shopIt can be exhausting. Absolutely. And you know what? If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, after the month you’ve just had, that’s perfectly reasonable. It’s quite possible the most important thing for you to do right now is take a week off. Some people take a month off.

Sometimes in the past, I’ve taken three months. That felt really right at the time, but you know what? It’s never done me any favors. I’m not fully me unless I’m writing, and when I let myself not write, I’m making too big a sacrifice for the quiet little reward.

It’s perfectly healthy to take some kind of break, though. Just make sure you’re doing it, not as a desperate reaction, but as part of a reasoned plan to finish your project.

That’s your assignment for this weekend. Even if you’re still busy trying to finish up your novel at the same frantic pace you worked all November. Even if you haven’t touched your book since Week Two. Right now, it’s time to figure out a plan.

Sit down with a calendar and figure out how long of a break you’re going to take (if at all). You’ve got some good experimental numbers to go on now, so figure out how many words a day you can really do, and plot out how long it’s going to take you to finish your book.

If you’re done with your book, then your plan needs to involve revision. You still might need a break, even before you start on that. A lot of people even recommend it.

Personally, I recommend just a short one — maybe a week — but then I recommend several stages of revision. That gives you more built-in time between now and changing any of the big stuff, and it gives you opportunities for more little breaks in between the stages.

I like to do a reread first, skimming through the book just to discover what it is I actually wrote. If it’s convenient, I do that at a computer or with a pen in hand just to fix typos, but I don’t change anything bigger than that.

Then I go back through to revise it and chart the story’s plot.

Then I spend some time on a serious rework, fixing things that are actually broken.

Finally, I’ll do a rewrite, making major changes and tuning the story until it’s cohesive and sharp.

Some of those take hours, some of them take weeks. It depends on your style, on your book, and on the quality of your prewriting. I’ll talk more about each of them in the weeks to come (each stage gets its own article series). For now, just figure out where you are, and what you’re going to do.

2 Responses to “On Revision: Follow Through”

  1. One Tuesday I wrote on my blog my own game plan for the next few months. However, it’s kind of vague. Does that mean that I’m more likely to fall off the band wagon? Do I need to be more concrete, or is what I have enough?

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      I think what you’ve got, especially at the time you wrote it, is just perfect.

      Just like the writing of the novel, the game plan needs to be a flexible thing. You start out vague, and get more precise the farther you go.

      If it hasn’t already, that should become really apparent as we move through my postwriting recommendations. The first three phases mostly just involve making a revision plan, then reading through the book and updating the plan accordingly.

      There’s four or five stages to the revision process (the way I do it), and only the last one or two really involve making any changes to the manuscript itself.