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Beyond the First Draft: Starting the Revision Process

Monday, August 13, 2007

revise (v.): 1. To prepare a newly edited version of (a text). 2. To reconsider and change or modify.

rewrite (v.): 1. To write again, especially in a different or improved form. 2. To put in a form suitable for publishing.

I use both of these terms when it comes to working on the second (third, fourth, etc.) draft of a manuscript.

To me, “revise” means to take what already exists and edit it—maybe add a few lines here, take away a few lines there. But the revised form still retains much of the content of the first draft.

“Rewrite” means adding entire new scenes or scrapping the original chapters and writing new ones that better tie in with where the story ended up.

For example: When I started the second draft of Stand-In Groom, I had to rewrite the first three or four chapters because the original draft of the chapters didn’t work any more. Almost everything I wrote in those chapters was brand new. When I started the second draft of Ransome’s Honor, I mostly only had to revise the first three chapters because I wanted to keep much of what was in them. I did write two new scenes, but worked them into the already existing chapters, which only needed editing, not a complete overhaul.

When it comes to beginning a second draft, there are two schools of thought: you either sit down with a blank page and begin writing the whole thing over again, or you work from your existing files. Most of the time, you’re going to find yourself doing some of both. Hopefully not as much rewriting as revising, but allow for the possibility of new scenes/chapters.

Last time I was able to post, I listed a bunch of things you want to do to prepare yourself for the revision process. Now that you’ve reread your manuscript and gathered all of your critiques and notes, you’re ready to start your second draft. If you achieved clarity, you should know about how much needs to be changed—if you need to revise or rewrite.

Now here’s where things start getting really subjective: the actual process.

When I write, I save each of my chapters as a separate file in a folder bearing the (working) title of the manuscript. For example:

My Documents
—-Novels
——–Ransome Trilogy
————Book 1: Ransome’s Honor
—————-01.doc
—————-02.doc
—————-03.doc

And so on. (If, in the process of writing, I do go in and make a major change to a chapter, I’ll rename the old version 01a.doc and the new one becomes 01.doc).

When I start the second draft, I create a new folder in the main manuscript folder and move the first draft files into it, so that the tree looks like this:
My Documents
—-Novels
——–Ransome Trilogy
————Book 1: Ransome’s Honor
—————-01-second.doc
—————-02-second.doc
—————-First Draft
——————–01.doc
——————–02.doc
——————–03.doc . . .
——————–RH-First Draft 02-17-07.doc

I never save my second draft chapters over the first draft chapters—that way, in case I change something and then decide I liked it the way it was better the first time, the original is still there. I also always combine all of my chapter files into one document when the first draft is finished, no matter how much revision/rewriting it needs. That way, if one of the chapter files becomes corrupt, I still have it in the full draft document.

When revising chapters, I will open the original from the First Draft folder, then save it into the master manuscript folder (the files with “-second” appended to the names above) with the appropriate new chapter number.

There are two main reasons I save in chapter files in the early draft stages:

First, I find it easier to gauge the length of my chapters when I have only the pages of that chapter in the file. I know I need to write between 12 and 14 pages to hit my average chapter length (between 3,300 and 4,000 words), and can see when I’m getting close to that length so I can start building to the hook. It’s also easier to print a chapter-in-progress to take with me when I might have a few minutes to write—like waiting at the doctor’s office or something.

Second, I find it easier to revise when the first draft is saved chapter-by-chapter. I’m not having to weed through hundreds of pages of text to find what I’m looking for, especially when I get to later chapters. It’s easier to match up critiques, which may have expanded by several pages, when there are only fourteen pages in a chapter document, than when you’re two hundred pages into a full-manuscript file, because in the second draft, there are most likely going to be a lot of changes, revisions, and corrections needed to each chapter.

Now, by the time I get to the third draft, I will start pulling each chapter into a single manuscript file. At this stage, the revisions are fewer and further between and it’s easier just to do a “find” for a specific phrase near what needs to be changed, since I’m probably not going to have chapter-by-chapter changes.

So, that’s how I do it. How do you do it?

6 Comments
  1. Tuesday, August 14, 2007 9:36 am

    When I start writing it’s all in individual chapters. I too can gauge better my length and the pace of the chapters and such.

    Once I’ve finished the rough draft and an initial read through, then I’ll put the chapters together. Then with each new revision I ‘save as’ my document, so I don’t lose what ‘was’ written.

    I’m finding this novel I’m doing a TON of rewriting. Wasn’t planning on it, but my story needed improvements and I realize how I could really help the story which involved many new scenes and deletion of old scenes. I’d say I’m doing 75% rewrites and 25% revise right now (on my third draft). Typically for me it the reverse 🙂

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  2. Tuesday, August 14, 2007 11:44 am

    I’m the single document approach. Since I’m a non-linear chunk writer, this method works best for me. I’ll often write a scene and have no earthly idea what chapter it belongs to. So I just write and push that scene down, and then when I do get to where it belongs, it’s right there.

    I’ve done the chapter by chapter approach in the past, and while I handled it ok, it wasn’t a favorite method. I spent too much rewriting, because the story would change.

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  3. Tuesday, August 14, 2007 3:29 pm

    I think I’m going to re-organize my wip. I’ve been writing in one big document, and worrying about how it will break into chapters, whether I’m putting in hooks in the right places, how many words will make up a chapter, etc.

    Thanks for an easy to use system.

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  4. Mariam permalink
    Wednesday, August 15, 2007 11:09 pm

    I agree with the differences of “rewrite” and “revise.” I use the “chapter” approach to large proposal projects that I do in my day job. Over the years I have found this is a good way to approach things that have distinct sections.

    I am currently revising and rewriting first draft of my manuscript. I wrote it by chapters using WriteWayPro, which made it easy to reorder the chapters as I went, then printed it out as one big document. I will enter the revisions into the chapter files (I agree easier to find things and match the critiques) and when I am done, print it out again as one manuscript.

    Mariam

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