How Not to Get Overwhelmed with Revisions

Photo credit: dave lewis 88 on Flickr
So once upon a time, I wrote a YA Fantasy for NaNoWriMo crazy fast, put it away for a year and a half, then pulled it back out, revised it, and sent it to critique partners.

And then my critique partners, being the awesomely insightful ladies they are, sent me back their notes. And, um. There were a lot of notes. Like, maybe a little more than I was prepared for.

And that didn’t include the tracked changes. Activate panic mode.

I knew right from the start there was no way I’d be able to tackle all of these revision notes at once, especially since they were all over the place—I had notes on character, plot, pacing, worldbuilding, writing, etc. To try to tackle everything at once would’ve been a recipe for disaster.

And so, I edited in passes

After importing all of my new comments into Scrivener, I did a preliminary round of edits to remove notes that were really easy to fix. These were comments like you used this word three times on this page and you have a typo here. Each note took under a minute to check off, and after going through everything I had 332 notes left.

Much more manageable. But these notes weren’t easy fixes anymore, and I knew I’d still have to split them up if I wanted to give every element (character, plot, etc.) its due.

So now that I was down to 332 notes, I went through and color coded them. Purple for worldbuilding, blue for plot/pacing, red for character, orange for voice/writing, and yellow for miscellaneous. I then counted them up to see how many notes I had for each and came up with this:

Now that I had an idea of what needed the most work, I prioritized and separated them into different passes.

  • First pass: Character (125 notes)
  • Second pass: Plot, Pacing, Voice and Writing (131 notes)
  • Third pass: Worldbuilding and Misc. (72 notes)
  • Fourth pass: Polish

This is where color-coding the comments came in handy, because while I was doing my first pass, I was able to easily ignore notes that weren’t related to character (AKA: any note that wasn’t red). Same for the second pass, and by the third I only had purple and yellow notes left.

Breaking it up like this made revisions much easier to handle (and, just as importantly, not nearly as terrifying to think about). Not only did it allow me to really hone in and focus on improving one element at a time, but as a whole, I think it made the whole process a lot more enjoyable than it might have been otherwise.

What do you think? Have you ever tried revising in passes?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Are revisions overwhelming you? Writer @Ava_Jae shares how she breaks down the revision process. (Click to tweet)


Rae Oestreich said...

This post is kind of awesome. I've been really nervous about when my WIP goes out to CPs for the first time (like you said: NOTES). Putting all of the notes into comments helps (I'm working on my senior project, and every time I get a draft of a SS back from my adviser it's the first thing I do: put them all onto one word document).

I think color coding sounds like a good idea...and tackling the easy things, first.

Thanks for this, Ava!

Robin Red said...

Oh boy. That's a lot of notes.

Ana @ Butterflies of the Imagi said...

I have just ventured into revising my first novel, and it can be a very overwhelming process. I'm actually plotting for a complete rewrite, and I'm changing a ton of the macro stuff now. After that I'll probably edit the finer details like dialogue and style with passes. I think color coding is a great idea, and it'll probably please my organized self.

Morgyn Star said...

Wow, how many different crit partners were you importing, Ava?

Ava Jae said...

Just three, believe it or not. lol

Ava Jae said...

You're totally welcome, Rae! Trading is definitely scary (especially at first!), but for me a least, color-coding the feedback made the experience a little more fun (and less terrifying).

Ava Jae said...

Indeed. lol

Ava Jae said...

Definitely a good idea to tackle the macro stuff first. And yes, color-coding made the organizational part of me rather smiley. :)

Good luck with your revisions!

Alexandra Wendt said...

Great post! I'm in a creative writing class this semester, and it can be daunting to receive comments from fourteen different people, even when it's just on one chapter. I love your idea of color-coding and editing in passes--I did that when self-editing the first novel I wrote a few years ago, and found it extremely helpful.

Heather said...

This is a very good idea; something I should do myself. Getting feedback is great, but a lot of times my editing life is summed up as "I have no idea what I'm doing." And getting through things one small piece at a time is very helpful; except, you know, when you have to step back and panic because how on earth could you send that to your CP when it was so obvious that it needed to be fix and you just... didn't... notice...

Great ideas, and thanks for giving me a little insight into an editing process! It helps!

gricel said...

I'm so doing this on the next round!

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Alexandra! I did a creative writing class last semester, so I totally understand that nervousness that comes from sharing your work with a class.

I definitely love color-coding. Not only does it make it easier to look at, but it's fun. And pretty. :)

Ava Jae said...

So the good thing about critique partners is you're sending them work because you know it needs improvement. So it's totally okay—and expected!—that they find ways to improve it and fixes that seem obvious in hindsight.

So don't worry. It happens to all of us. :)

Ava Jae said...

Awesome! I hope it works well for you! :)

Donna Cook said...

Yes, excellent points! What a great way to deal with overload and tackle your story one section at a time. I tend to work the same way. Sometimes I'll pull notes into a separate document, sort by theme (like you did), print it out, and cross things off as I go. It's pretty gratifying to see my progress that way.

I also think we can deal with certain aspects of our story when we look at it as a whole (plot, etc) instead of just plowing through the whole book, one page a time, trying to remember every little change that needs to be made.

Thanks for sharing!

Ava Jae said...

Oh, yes, I love crossing things out. It feels so great. :) I also definitely agree that tackling one aspect at a time makes the whole process much more manageable. I don't necessarily look at every page every pass for that reason!

And you're welcome! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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