Messy Manuscript Revision

Am in the middle of revising and things are chaotic. Actually had to buy a monitor because of all the cut and paste and rearranging going on. The little laptop screen was just not getting the job done.

This is normal for a novel drafted in a month with daily word counts. I shall not panic. I will, as Jennifer Cruise says, protect the work. Jenny is my go-to guide for revision, both the process and how to fit it into life when things feel a bit frayed. I’m at the point just now where I feel like one tug and the fabric might become a mess of threads that don’t make whole cloth.

Tortured metaphors aside, I have a few things I do in times like this (besides the unwise decision to buy new electronics during Mercury retrograde, but that’s another story). I cut back my schedule to bare bones. Make a commitment to show up at my desk every day. I don’t give up, take days off, or skip away to social media. Or if I do…I come right back.

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I protect the work. I make it primary. I also outline, create a calendar, and micro-manage my plot. This time the plot was lopsided. My original goal was not big enough to sustain my interest for the entire novel (and if it can’t sustain my interest it will not click with the critique group or those distant readers in the future) so late in the story I added a layer to the plot. This new layer greatly improved things but it made the structure wobble.

Paper clips and turning points (Jenny on turning points) are my friends as I read the entire manuscript, outline the way the scenes need to be realigned, consult my story calendar to keep sequence of events straight. I spread the entire book (in paper-clipped scene-sized chunks) all over the floor. Then I stack them up front to back. Every day I take the next paper-clipped scene and move it to its new position within the document. I’m not so much concerned with the loose threads that need to be edited to smooth things out at the end–I can catch those in the next read through, after the book is re-ordered in some semblance of how it appears in my head.

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The bonus for working daily and consistently on a story this way is that you’ll get little hints and helps. Last night I came up with a solution to a motivation problem. Why should my protagonist care about goal A when goal B is now compelling her action? The answer was elegant and simple and will be easy to incorporate at this point in revision.

When I show up for my work this way, the universe conspires in happy and surprising ways. If you’ve got a mess of a manuscript on your hands, it may help you, too.

10 Comments on “Messy Manuscript Revision

    • It’s the only way I know how to revise (with the paper clips and the chunks of manuscripts all over the floor). I think because my first drafts are so all over the place. I got a ton of help on craft from Jennifer Crusie when I was starting to write novels. I took a weekend intensive workshop with her that changed the way I thought about writing novels. Then I was part of her online critique group for years, so that the lessons really became easier to use in my own work. Jenny is going to publish her writing/craft book someday…soon I hope. She’s taught it all many times, and many many novelists have learned so much from her!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I just want to say that you have a beautiful space in which to work. It’s calm & not chaotic like my space is.

    Like

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