At the end of February I finished the initial draft of the historical fiction novel I’ve been researching for years. I’ve taken the last few months off away from it so it can sit and because I was mentally exhausted. During these last 4 months I worked on other stuff; mainly new short stories, jotting down new ideas, and accidentally starting another novel.
My self-imposed deadline to begin the revision process was July 1st. Well, as July 1st got closer, the more anxious I became. Excited, some, yes, but anxious because I know there is so much wrong with it. It is going to be an overwhelming amount of work just to get it to a coherent point.
Another cause for my anxiety was this is also going to be the first time I’ve tried revising a novel. Since I’ve never really revised a novel, I wasn’t sure where to start. On and off over the past 4 months I have thought about this process. Where to start? How long will this take me? And more than once, is this even worth it?
I chewed over the last question the most because the story is set during a little known rebellion that ultimately failed and how the ebb and flow of that rebellion is mirrored in the relationship between the two main characters. Because it’s not set in a popular time period or place I am concerned about if it is even worth revising since I suspect it will be a hard sell. Ultimately I realized that I need to continue the work on it. If I don’t I will regret it and even if I can’t get it traditionally published or decide to not even self-publish it, then I do need the practice on how to revise a novel.
Once that dilemma was decided, I focused more on trying to figure out what my process is for revising a novel. Writing is such a highly individualized sport that no matter how many books, articles, and interviews I read about revising, it still comes down to figuring out what works for me. I knew I simply couldn’t approach it as I would a short story due to my process for writing a short story is different from writing a novel. Thankfully I’m not under any kind of deadline so I can take my time.
The easiest part of the process was the day I printed out the manuscript. Apologies to the tree I probably killed to do it but hey, at least I recycle the paper. Since I hadn’t written it in order this meant I would have to cobble together in order the story. Messy but it’s how my brain works when drafting a novel.
Below is a picture of what it looked like when I put the book in order.
Good thing I have a large expanse of floor space to lay things out. Since I need to visualize and touch things, I spent a couple of days staring at the finished product including reviewing scenes I was throwing out as well as noting scenes which still needed to be written.
What I happily discovered was by laying out the whole novel like I did was seeing each character’s presence in the story. It was also nice seeing the story falls into the classic 3 act structure.
Another problem I had to contend with was since I have two main characters who’s stories start off in different locations until they finally merge into one, how in the hell was I planning on ordering the story? Good for me I had written scenes down onto notecards with dates I worked on each scene. I connected the scenes together, dividing them into beginning, middle, and end. To solve the two main character question I further divided things by designating one column for each character and ordered things accordingly.
Essentially I’m revising two novels which will be combined in the next round of revision. At this point, this makes sense to me and I think will allow me to completely immerse myself into each character’s mind and world.
Next came the very scary step of actually starting the revision stage. Below is a picture of what I’m referring to as my command center: the dining room table. While I have separate desks for my computer and physical writing, neither are big enough for me to spread out. Since I’ll be fact checking and doing additional research during this phase, I need my computer nearby. And who honestly uses their dining room table? We certainly don’t very often.
As of this writing, I’ve revised the opening chapter which took a lot longer than I anticipated. In the months ahead I know more research will be done, scenes will be added and deleted. The least of my concerns is the harder examination of the prose itself. Yes, I’m trying to rewrite some of the crap I threw down on paper but once I have my facts straightened out, I can relax and focus on that.
What I’ve been telling myself during this process is to keep in mind to take it word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page, chapter by chapter. This isn’t a sprint or even a marathon but an extreme marathon.