Justine: Procrastination, Thy Name is Revision

eight ladies writing, procrastination, procrastinate, revision, revising, writingIf you’ve been following Eight Ladies recently, you’ll know I’m finally finished my first draft…it’s time to revise and polish.

This is the first time I’ve done revision. On my first book.

Translation: I’ve never done this before.

(Embarrassing admission: I’m afraid of the magnitude of changes I have to make, so I’ve been procrastinating.)

When I’m faced with something I’m not sure how to tackle, or if the “something” is huge and intimidating, I procrastinate. For instance, I’ve spent a lot of time lately working on my timeline (necessary, but not required…I have plenty of scenes that I need to write that are not really timeline-dependent), I’m creating a “bible” of notes, observations, characters, settings, facts, etc. about Napoleon and the Regency to support my story (could definitely do this later), I’ve been jotting notes for the next book (um, hello? Finish the first one!), and of course I’ve been doing the usual household stuff like laundry, paying bills, cleaning and de-cluttering the storage closet, organizing receipts for taxes, and scrubbing the grout in the kitchen with a small toothbrush.

In my head, I know exactly what I have to do to get this book whipped into shape. I even have a list, but the list is looooooong (thus intimidating), and my self-imposed deadline is months away. My mind tells me I have plenty of time to get this book done! (Not.)

I have to stop.

When I worked as a software designer, I managed a number of requirements for a given software release. For each requirement, I had to write the design, review it with product management, make revisions, review with development, revise again, and then publish. Once the code was done, I had to test, revise the design based on actual implementation, then assist with the user guide/training material so it reflected functionality. In other words, there was a set process I had to follow and everything had a due date. Four days to write the design, two days to review, one day to rewrite, a week to code, etc. I plotted everything out in a Gantt chart, complete with dependencies and a hard-and-fast end date for the entire release.

I have to take this same approach with my revisions.

I need to make a detailed list and organize it by like things, then put a time lock on everything. For example, my subplot is lackluster and missing details. I need to:

  • Flesh out the subplot, including the timing of events, listing the major events that need to happen
  • Determine any missing scenes
  • Sketch out the missing scenes at a high level (a “Cliff notes” version)
  • Write the scenes
  • Determine what other scenes need to change
  • Make those changes (and complete all of this in, say, two weeks)

This seems so easy…but why am I having such a tough time doing this? Perhaps its because each time I delve into my story to look at what needs to change, I find more things that need fixing. Things that go on my list, which gets ever-longer. To tell you the truth, it’s a bit demoralizing. But I need to push that from my mind. I’ve got to pull up my big-girl pants, get organized, and make deadlines and keep them, or I’ll never finish this book.

Do you have strategies for tackling revisions? What works for you? I’m completely open to suggestions, so please share.

25 thoughts on “Justine: Procrastination, Thy Name is Revision

  1. I’m having the same issues Justine, and I compounded it by sending my ms out to a few contests and critique groups to see where I was week. BIG MISTAKE. Every time it comes back, the first two or three chapters, there’s something more that needs fixed. I haven’t been past chapter five in so long I’m forgetting my own story, lol, ok not that bad but still you get what I mean, grr

    • I’m not to the revision stage yet, but my plan when I get there is to enlist a core group of beta readers/critiquers and work with only them. Otherwise, I worry that I’d be leaving myself open to the whims of people that may or may not be my readers.\

      Also, contests are great, but I’m not sure I’d rely solely on them for feedback. You really don’t know who is reading you for one thing, or what their motivation may be for the feedback they provide.

      Just my two cents.

      • good point and I totally agree, especially now that it’s happened to me. A very wise author gave me some great advice, she said that your ms is your baby. You breath life into it, you feed it, you nurture it. Don’t send it out into the world until your absolutely sure you’re ready

        • I agree with Kat. Given my writing background (tech writing), I never wanted to send anything out for review until I was sure it was perfect (or as perfect as I could get it). I’ll have to scale back my version of “perfect” for my novel, but I still don’t want it going out any earlier than necessary — critique group excepted.

  2. There’s big picture stuff (the book as a whole, themes, characterization, etc.), and little picture stuff (does this character act like this character would in this scene? does this scene work as a whole? is my setting consistent in the scene?). And they all tie in with each other, so maybe the best way to tackle it is to do a little big picture stuff, a little little picture stuff, and so on and so forth. And just accept that sometimes a small change to a scene (especially at the beginning, but sometimes at the end) will completely change most of the scenes throughout the book. (So very, very hard to accept that sometimes.)

    Justine, all your writing “procrastination” does sound like it’s mostly book-related, though, which is good.

    I’d like to hear how Scrivener is helping you with your goals, if it is.

    I think perhaps I need to assign time to each task, every day. First in importance is the actual rewriting (since I’ve redone the GMC, and done most of that work in class). Second, record the scenes, characters, places and magic used — I think I’m going to go for the 3X5 index card approach for the scenes. Also, I need to remember to keep collecting pictures and maybe music that go with my scenes — and I need to figure out how to organize them (somehow tag them by scene).

    I might be able to put an A4 piece of paper into four quadrants, and that way, I could paste a “key picture” into my scene description . . . . After I print them, I can cut them up and use them as index cards.

    • Scriv is allowing me to do a couple things — mostly related to self-containment. I’m keeping facts, settings, characters, etc. in my Scriv project (for now — because this is intended to be the first in a multi-book series, I see myself creating a “series bible,” but for now, within the project is fine). I’ve created a to-do list, as well. What I need to do is color-code my to-do list based on what (or who) it’s related to (frex, anything to do with Susannah is blue, Nate is green, Captain is orange, marquess is red..I’ve used the same color code for POV for each of my scenes so I can tell at a glance if I have too many of one character or not enough of another). Beyond that, I have to dig into my Scriv how-to book and look at some other places online to see how people are using it, and figure out if that’s useful for me.

      All of that said, I think your strategy for doing a few big items, then small items is a good one, if for no other reason than it’ll seem like I’m making progress!

      • Cool. I’m trying to decide if I want to take the plunge and buy something like that . . . but I really don’t have such a problem keeping track of characters, etc. (-: My biggest problem is daily writing habits. Working on it, and I don’t think Scriv comes with a cattle prod.

        BTW, super-cool that you read your book on Kindle! I also get lost in parts of my books and forget I was the one who wrote it, and it’s such a nice feeling (if the parts are good (-:).

        • There’s definitely no cattle prod included with Scrivener, but I have to say it makes it a lot more fun (er, bearable?) to work on your book when you’re not sifting through hundreds of pages (or multiple independent files) in Word. That’s not even counting the cork board feature, the custom tags, the project targets/statistics, etc. (I could go on). It also exports to Kindle, epub, etc. In the US, Scrivener is $45 (for the Mac version; the PC version is $40 — less for both if you’re a student). I’ve spent a lot of time on their site watching video tutorials and reading case studies (ahem, procrastinating) and I know they’re working hard on parity between the two platforms, so while you may not be able to do EVERYTHING right now with Scriv on the PC, it won’t be long before you can.

          If nothing else, you can download it for 30 days and try it for free. And that’s not 30 consecutive days, but 30 days of use, so if you buy it on the 1st of Feb, but only use it every other day, your free trial will be good through about the end of March.

      • Just to add, I also think Scrivener is brilliant, and I hardly use any of the features. Thing I like is that you can have everything (scenes, research notes, character notes) visible in a sidebar the whole time. So, if you forget a name or minor character, or eye colour, you can just look it up incredibly quickly. Plus, you can flick from one scene to another much more quickly than you can in word, unless you have all the documents open in word – that helps me go back to earlier scenes and make changes as I’m writing later scenes and think of things – before I just used to make too many notes telling me to change something, rather than actually doing it. It’s also super easy to view the whole draft as one document, and then go to another view, and it’s back into individual scene documents again. I could go on for hours about its total brilliance

        There’s also something rather nice about having special software for writing, so it makes it feel distinct from day job.

        • Hmmm. I will just have to make some time to download Scrivener and give it a try. The sidebar feature does sound nice. I’ve spent more money on chocolate, LOL. I’ve been keeping my own character spreadsheets, but everything is across several platforms.

          OK, one last question: can you put pictures in Scrivener, then? For example, the placeholder for my person, place or magical artifact? I know I can in Excel and Word.

        • This reply is actually for Michaeline (sorry for any confusion, Rachel, but there were no more “reply” links at the bottom of M’s last comment!).

          You can attach a lot of stuff to Scriv. I snagged this little bit from the Literature and Latte website: “No more switching between multiple applications to refer to research files: keep all of your background material—images, PDF files, movies, web pages, sound files—right inside Scrivener. And unlike other programs that only let you view one document at a time, in Scrivener you can split the editor to view research in one pane while composing your text right alongside it in another. Need to refer to multiple research documents? Call up additional material in floating QuickReference panes. Transcribe an interview or conversation, make notes on an image or article, or just refer back to another chapter, all without leaving the document you’re working on.”

          In other words, it’s all right there.

        • Oh-ho! That sounds very complete, Justine. So, kind of like an Evernote or OneNote for writers? I will simply have to make time to give it a go. The problem with tech is even though it can make things go faster, sometimes it takes longer to learn how to use it optimally than it does to just write out little index cards . . . . (But tech wins out over my normal hand-writing any day!)

  3. I feel your pain, Justine. It has taken me a long time to understand and decide on the changes I have to make. Like you, I haven’t done it before. I’m pretty sure I was in denial about the amount of work involved. I didn’t have enough conflict, because Ian wasn’t the right antagonist, but moving Sasha into the role of antagonist meant I had to figure out a whole lot more about her character and back-story (done, with more work to do, thanks to much help from the amazing Jennifer O’Brien). I had to give Sasha a new goal, she had to have a voice (new POV), and she needed new characters around her. Argh already. Plus, these changes mean I also changed Ian and Rose. And then I need to change the sub-plot with Ian’s family, and create a better/proper sub-plot for Rose’s family. So it’s not really a revision. I basically have to write a whole new book with the same characters playing slightly different roles. I didn’t want to accept that because I could see how long it would take and it frustrated the hell out of me. Now I think I’ve come to terms with it.

    Because so much has to change, I’m working through the story scene by scene, rewriting as necessary. I’m trying to do at least one scene per day and more if I can, but I’ve stopped putting a time-lock on it because that was making me crazy. I know the characters well now and I understand where I’m trying to go, so I think it’s building better. I need to get a new ‘first draft’ before I can tailor the scenes and add missing ones.

    So right now I’m re-building from the bottom, scene by scene. When I get to the end I’ll re-read the whole thing, figure out what scenes I need to add and what I need to change to tell the story as I’ve finally settled on it (eg tidy up the first scene to match the end).

    Then I’ll start what I’m thinking of as revision proper:
    Outline the story as Jenny showed us and make sure I like the overall shape and feel of it;
    Make a pass looking at just Rose’s character arc, then Ian’s, then Sasha’s then Rose and Ian’s love story;
    Make a pass looking at each sub-plot, one by one;
    Check I’ve anchored each scene physically with enough description (just enough, not too much);
    Check I’m happy with the emotional intensity of each scene, and make sure I’ve given external, physical cues as well as internal ones;
    Make sure I’ve dropped in enough back-story to support where my characters are today, without infodumping;
    Double-check the timelines;
    Check for words I over-use, passive voice, modifiers, adverbs, dialogue tags, etc
    Check formatting;
    Ask for beta reads and consider/adjust for input!

    This is why I had my head in the sand bucket about the whole task. I had no idea that the end of the first draft meant just the beginning of the real work! Now I’m just concentrating on my ‘new’ first draft, one scene at a time. I’m not even worrying about the ‘revision’ to-do list until I get the new draft finished. I’m keeping a diary to track my progress so I can understand better what works and what trips me up. I have a date in mind that I want to be finished with everything, but I’m not setting it in stone, just making sure that I’m inching towards it every day.

    • Good lord, you’re right about “now [when the draft is done] is when the work begins.” It sounds to me, though, like you’ve got a pretty clear plan for your story, which is great. I think I’m going to borrow some of your items in your list, just to make sure I am covering those bases, too, because I certainly haven’t considered all of them.

      *sigh* my to do list just got longer.

  4. Hey Justine, maybe go back to some of the tips we learned at McD. The outline assignment we completed is one thing in particular I intend to use when I begin my revision process (outline the WIP scene by scene, group the scenes by main plot, sub-plots, etc. and then try to determine what’s missing for each story line, what can be eliminated, what can be improved, and so on).

    I’m also going to download my book to my Kindle and read it cover to cover (honestly I do this right now and it’s what I did when I read your book: Three Proposals) making notes along the way on the main plot and each subplot.

    Beyond that, I’m just working to get to where you are 🙂

    • I hated that outline assignment. I see it’s value, but I didn’t like doing it. Right now, I’m going to try to avoid it. If I find myself turned around six ways from Sunday, I might do it, but at this juncture, I’m just going to go with my gut (and my current list).

      Reading my book on the Kindle was a really cool experience. There were parts where I really engaged and forgot it was my book; then there were parts where I was like, “What IS this shit?” I did make notes on the shit parts (which, unfortunately, outnumbered the really cool parts), so hopefully I’ll have them fixed before I read it again. I’m trying to hold off…I want to get some significant changes made before I export to Kindle format again.

      You’ll get there, Kat. BTW, I was in Jerome and Sedona…got some pictures for you, and would you believe there is a Dry Creek (it’s a creek!), as well as a Dry Creek Scenic Highway (from Cottonwood, near Jerome, to Sedona)! If my husband wasn’t in the car, I would have texted you immediately, but he tends to frown on that stuff (spoilsport).

  5. Okay, Justine, you’re the uber-organizer, the blue-ribbon specialist, the person who really could herd cats, the person who always makes a list, but if that long lists of revisions intimidates you, I’d say throw it away. Don’t use it. Read the book from start to finish, and trust your instincts. What do you like? What do you skip? What do you want more of? Or less? Your readers want emotional engagement, so see where your own emotions get engaged. A list might not be your best friend at this junction. As you read, make a note where something should change, and just carry on. When you finish, fix. Rinse, repeat. Until you’re happy with it. The best emotion of all!

    (Okay, this is basically what Jilly said, only with a lot less detail, so not that helpful. But then, I’m not that good with lists. 🙂 )

    • I swear you guys must have ESP. I was reading over Jilly’s post and thinking to myself (after making a mental note of more stuff for my to-do list), “I should just read the damn thing again…I’ll know where things are off.”

      Thanks for the cat-herding compliment, BTW. Surprising, given I hate cats. 🙂

  6. Hi Justine, It’s refreshing to hear someone who is in the same boat as I. I’m almost done with my first draft of my first book and I feel like I won’t be able to celebrate that milestone because I know there are a TON of things I need to fix when I go back and revise/edit and I’ve never done that before so I have no clue what to expect. Thanks for sharing some tips and techniques that might help. I hope I remember to come back and reread your post when the time comes.

    • Darla, if you do anything, celebrate finishing that first draft, because it is a fantastic milestone and the Girls here will tell you I sent out a note to our private blog (just for the girls from McDaniel) basically shouting that to the rooftops. It really was a fantastic feeling to write that last scene, even though I know I have a lot of work ahead of me to make it ready for the public. Don’t let the work you know you still have to do diminish the accomplishment of completing your first draft, and whatever your poison is (wine, chocolate, sleep, a massage — whatever), partake of that poison and enjoy that moment!

    • Status update: I worked out the timeline kinks, figured out my plot holes related to Napoleon’s march to Paris, came up with some great conflict between other characters, took the marquess’ goal in a whole new direction (involving Napoleon’s sister, no less), and cleaned up the first four scenes to submit to contests. In other words, the first draft is done (this time completely, including missing scenes), but now I have to re-revise and polish. That’ll take some work, especially given that I have to work in the stuff I mentioned above. I started making a list last night, though, and it’s doable. I am ready to move full steam ahead.

      Thanks for the best wishes!

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