I’m in the middle of a revision right now–one of those big nasty revisions where practically everything needs to change. I get easily overwhelmed with these sorts of revisions, so I break them up into the tiniest possible pieces. First I do a read-through of the printed manuscript and scribble notes all over the pages. Where the margins are not sufficient for my scribblings, I add post-its. Where the post-its are not sufficient, I insert blank pages. With my most relentless critical voice I make notes about what’s wrong with every word, ever paragraph, every page, every chapter, every character large and small, and most especially every plot arc.
When I can think of solutions, I write them down in the margins, where they go. For larger problems with plot arcs and characters, I might end up with dozens of notes in various places in the manuscript, just to fix that one thing, since a macro problem needs many, many micro changes to correct it. When I can’t think of solutions, I just write down the problem, and think happy thoughts for my future self who’s going to have to be smarter than I am. Good luck future self! Try not to hate me too much.
Then, when I am done reading, I’ll go through the manuscript side-by-side with the digital version and make changes paragraph by paragraph. I will be absolutely certain I cannot fix the book by this point. The changes needed will just be too numerous. But I can fix this first paragraph–it’s just a paragraph after all! And then, since I fixed that one, I can fix the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that. When I’m looking at the book in small increments, I’m not as tempted to rush, particularly if I work a little every day. And somehow, miraculously, I will make it through the whole manuscript, one tiny change at a time.
And, of course, it will not be perfect then. It will only be a second draft! But the revisions tend to get smaller as I go, so this is probably the biggest one I will do for this book. Unless, of course, it turns out to be one of those books that has to be rewritten from scratch. If I thought it was, though, I’d be doing that instead of revising.
I’m about halfway through my critical read-through, and nearly every page I have passed is covered in ink. Most scenes have notes in the margins saying something like, “they are talking about this, but they should be talking about this other thing entirely,” or “she’s thinking about this, but she should be thinking about these five other things instead.”
Or, in other words, current me says, “Good job, me who wrote the first draft! You wrote a thing! But dear future-me who will write the second draft, you’re going to have to do it again, only better this time! Good luck with that! And if you see me who wrote the first draft, try not to rub it in.”
Current me is kind of a jerk.