A rant about the glorious agony of revising

If this post had a point I’d state it here. It doesn’t. It’s just me ranting about the revision I’m working on. But don’t worry, I love revising.

If you’ve been following the saga of my revision (on my blog, in my monthly updates, on Twitter, or through a psychic connection) you’ll know I shared my sixth draft with my wonderful critique partner, Anna Kaling.

She gave me great suggestions about how I could cut length (my draft is 156k and I want it down to 120k) and make the story more compelling.

This was the first time I’d shared a complete(ish) novel of mine with anyone. It was scary and thrilling.

Since getting Anna’s feedback I’ve been through a number of stages.

Stage 1: OMG, someone read my story!

This was a headless chicken kind of excitement.

Because of the joy of time zone differences, I got a long email of detailed comments first thing in the morning just before I had to work all day.

I read them quickly and thought, “Yes! She’s right! These changes will make my story so much better.”

Stage 2: There’s so much to do!

Half an hour later I entered a stage of freaking out.

“I’ve already been writing this book for a year and a half. Now I have to rewrite the first half from the ground up? It’ll be so much work and nothing will fit back together afterwards.”

Stage 3: I’m going to make a plan!

I love planning and lists. By the time I got home from work I was ready to start spewing my ideas onto paper and turning them into a to do list for my next round of editing.

So many ideas…

Stage 4: How does all this fit with the existing draft?

I told myself I was not going to keep any scenes just because I liked them. They’re only going to stay in the story if they belong there.

I mean it.

A scene isn’t beautiful in isolation. (Okay, it can be, but that ruins my point.) It’s beautiful because of the way it works with the rest of the story. Its meaning comes from its interaction with the whole.

I realised if I was going to figure out how to fit the new into the old and excise the parts that didn’t belong I would need to lay out what I had.

So I made index cards! Look how pretty and parallel they are, just like my bacon.

Index cards for revising
I added one scene to each card. No, the colours aren’t a secret coding system. All they mean is that I didn’t have enough cards to make them all the same colour.

Summarising each scene and making the cards took three days.

My next problem was where to lay them out where I could see them all at once. The living room isn’t the ideal place, but that’s where the log burner is and the weather is really cold at the moment. Face it, I was never going to put them anywhere else.

I only had room to lay out acts 1 and 2. That’s fine. Act 3 needs less revising.

I’m glad I put so much effort into this. All my beautifully arranged cards have given His Royal Fluffiness a perfect place to sit and lick himself. They’re no longer as straight as they were. They also have more cat fur on them.

Unfortunately, they haven’t been especially helpful so far, though the exercise of making them was (or so I tell myself).

Stage 5: Maybe I should start by looking at what needs to be there

After several days of looking at my cards, I decided to start by building up a list of what needs to be in the story regardless of what’s already there. Then I could compare it with the contents of my current draft and see how to reconcile them.

I listed the threads that run through the middle of the book. There are fifteen. No, they’re not mostly separate points of view, but they are distinct story threads.

No wonder my books end up so long.

When it came time to firm up how all the threads fit together and interact…

Chaos and hand-wringing.

Stage 6: Enter Aeon Timeline 2

Stumbling in the dark, I heard about a program called Aeon Timeline 2 and figured it was worth a try.

I’ve only been using it for a few days so this is not a review, but so far it seems promising.

In case you’ve never heard of it, let me give you the dragon’s-eye view.

It’s a computer program (for Mac or PC) designed to help organise timelines, as you might guess from the name.

I’ve hardly scratched the surface of its functionality, but what I have figured out is helping tremendously.

You enter events into it that happen at certain dates. Dates can be absolute (e.g. 3 May 1525) or relative (e.g. 5 days after George eloped with a heifer). Each event can be attributed to one or more story arcs (e.g. antagonist’s quest to steal the magic egg cup), tagged with the characters involved, and attached to its location.

Once you’ve entered your events you can shift when they happen by dragging them on the timeline (which also moves all the events that are defined relative to them).

You can view all your events chronologically, or view them grouped by arc, character, or location.

This is a great tool for ensuring the duke doesn’t execute a prisoner in the ward of his castle while he’s a hundred miles away.

Aeon Timeline 2 is the reason I know that two events that were supposed to occur simultaneously in fact occurred four months apart. Oops. It looks like I have more work to do.

(I would have included a screenshot, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it without giving spoilers for my story. Sorry.)

Stage 7: Can I start adding and deleting scenes yet?

Despite the help of Aeon Timeline, I’m not ready to touch the draft yet.

But I REALLY want to.

Can’t I? Please? Just a little bit?

I’m sure the solutions to all my unanswered questions will become perfectly clear as soon as I get my hands on the text. It’s so much easier to see a whole story in a 156k word draft than in a few pages of summary.

Thanks for listening to my rant. Do you love revising or hate it? Would you like to share your own rant?

Still revising with index cards
Can you see where His Royal Fluffiness prefers to sit?

Get more from me, and it’s mostly not about writing… Unless you want it to be about writing, in which case it is about writing.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

16 thoughts on “A rant about the glorious agony of revising”

  1. I understand this so much!! I had to rewrite, still am actually. I’m half way there and I use scrivener. I love the fact you can take snapshots of scenes you changed and have the options to go back if needed. As much as I love writing, editing can be daunting at times, but the reward makes you forget that part 🙂

    1. I love Scrivener! Though I’m actually terrible at using its snapshot feature. It makes me nervous that I can’t see the old version of the text, so I tend to manually make copies of scenes I’m going to change.

      You’re right, editing can be daunting, but I also find it so satisfying when I figure out how two parts fit together (and then actually make them fit). 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing your revising rant! 🙂 This post is so relatable! I have to revise all the time, over and over again, in several stages (wish I knew how to write a good story on one sitting…). My reaction to beta readers is always the same, I’m at first super pumped about the feedback and eager to tackle the problems, and then my head catches up and I realize I have no idea how to improve the problem areas. Panic! Sometimes the rewrites go smoothly, but more often they involve weeks of thinking and planning and banging my head against the desk. Not fun. But it’s so rewarding in the end! 😀 Revising drives me crazy, but I love it.

    1. I have to revise over and over too. I am hoping that will get less as I write more books, but I have no proof of this yet. And that’s even when I write from a plan. Your revisions sound pretty much like mine. 🙂

  3. This is so familiar! (Except for the index card bit. I mean, I HAVE index cards, but they always seems to lose out to scraps of paper and massive drawing pads. The cat still gets the best use out of it all). I was really overwhelmed when I first realised how much I had to fix, but once I actually started, it was so much fun! Painful at times, but then you look back at the new version and realise that it’s so much better. Or I think it is. I don’t know. That’s the other hard bit – sometimes you’re too close to see if it’s actually improving or not!

    Anyhow – good luck and have fun!

    1. I saw your epic picture of huge bits of paper all over the room. I can totally see myself doing that, except my handwriting is so terrible that large amounts of handwritten text are not a good strategy for me. I have enough trouble reading my index cards with a sentence or two on each that I wrote really carefully.

      I’m glad you have fun revising too. I can’t wait to get my teeth into actually moving bits of text around. 🙂

  4. I had to rewrite my first novel about five times. The first version is unrecognisable from the final… and guess what? It needs another rewrite. I’ve been quietly ignoring that fact for the past year.

    The good news is that it gets easier. My second novel needed a few days of rewriting. My third, the rewrites took an hour (after a few weeks of procrastinating…)

    As painful as it was, I needed to go through that process with my first novel – realising several times over that it wasn’t working, and needed major changes. It made me a much better writer, and during the process I learned how to take feedback (you already have a headstart on me there, by the way. Feedback used to terrify me.)

    You can do it! The #FlintAppreciationClub and I believe in you!

    1. I can’t imagine what an hour of rewrites looks like. That’s hardly enough time to make a list! I’m glad to hear it gets faster, though. My process might never be as smooth as yours, but if I can get it down to one major rewrite that will be a vast improvement.

      Flint and I appreciate your belief in us! 🙂

  5. I use Scrivener in the same way a squirrel uses a tree: that is, as very useful scaffolding that is nevertheless so large and complex that my wee brain is incapable of grasping the nature of my connection to it. I love its notecards function, where I lay out my scenes and chapters before I draft, mostly because I live in a small house and there is nowhere I could arrange physical cards and if I did my dog would eat them. Then I write my first draft, in which I stray far afield of my virtual cards. Then I put the whole thing into a Word doc and let it sit for a good long time, after which, I re- carve it into chapters and load them back into a new draft in Scrivener. This is surely the least efficient method for using the program, but it works for me. I think. Anyway, VERY excited to learn about Aeon! Clearly something I need, especially when I write historical fiction (WOW . . . wouldn’t it be cool if the program had actual historical timelines of particular eras??). Your approach strikes me as having the correct balance of organization and chaos, so my money’s on you 🙂

    1. Haha, that does sound like a very inefficient way to use Scrivener, but if it works for you then it’s a good method. 🙂

      I can imagine Aeon Timeline would be very useful for a writer of historicals! I have no idea how much functionality it has in that direction, but you should figure it out and let us know!

  6. I am almost at the point of seeking out a beta reader for my latest ms. Feel like I’m sending a child off for the first day of school. I can button up its little sweater and give it a shiny new lunchbox, but once it climbs on the school bus, I can’t control what happens to it. I worry for the poor little thing.
    (Note: Yes, this is worrying about a potential bad outcome that hasn’t happened yet. I like to be proactive.)

    It is encouraging to read about how your revision comments encouraged you to revise without committing Death By Paper Cut or something along those lines.

    1. That’s such a scary time! What if there are bullies at school? There’s nothing you can do to protect it. Kudos on your proactive worrying. 😉

      Haha, I’m sure your revision comments will be just as encouraging, and I hope just as helpful.

  7. Oh my god, your index cards! I’d spent the day drowning in anxiety if I had those. I have several copies of my own MS spread everywhere so even if my house burns I’ll still have it. Do you keep copies of them?

    The “someone read my book” is an exciting feeling, usually followed by “my book sucks” since despite all the talk of thick skin, in the end we always take a hit. But once we iterate and work on the feedback, the story does improve and we feel better until the next round, when the cycle starts again.

    Great post!

    1. Don’t worry, I don’t have anything on index cards that isn’t also on my computer, backed up via Dropbox on two continents (just in case New Zealand falls into the sea).

      It’s a neverending cycle, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

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