I’m still buried in revisions, and am working overtime today (whatever “overtime” means for writers) so I can take tomorrow off and attend Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace conference here in Boston. But as promised, here are some devices and strategies that have been helping me during this phase of revision:
Three Low-Tech Devices To Aid Revision:
1. A large dry-erase calendar. Staples carries all sizes of white boards with blank calendar boxes; you can put in your own dates and change them as needed. I’m altering the time frame of my novel somewhat, as well as the sequence of events and revelations, so it’s great to play around with all this on a calendar before making a mess of the manuscript. I know you can play around with dates and calendars on a computer too, but having key events written on a big, physical calendar really helps me. I can see them at all times, and I can move events around so easily with the dry erase markers. I also have events color coded: major plot events in green, subplot events in blue. Things I’m not sure about, or which are moving around still, in red. Because the main events in my story take place over a span of just a few weeks, this calendar system works for me. I’m not sure what I’d do if I were dealing with a larger span of time. Buy several boards?
2.Post-It Notes. I am chewing through these — I’ve gone through three big packages already. The square ones are just the right size for writing down fragments of ideas, questions, reminders, or small issues to go back and fix. I also flag passages of the novel that I’m going to paste or incorporate somewhere else, so I don’t lose them. I stick them in the hard copy of my manuscript. When I’ve dealt with them, I just throw them out, which is very satisfying. Right now these are working better for me than keeping a log of issues or ideas in a notebook; I simply don’t have time to go wading through lots of handwritten pages. Again, having tangible reminders to work with seems to work better for me than notes or comments within the Word document. It cuts down on time I spend endlessly scrolling through the document.
3.A three-ring binder. I have the hard copy of the manuscript, with my handwritten notes and my abundance of post-it notes, punched into a binder so I can flip through it or reread it like a book. It travels with me in the car and I can look through it or read parts of it at odd times.
Two Strategies for Tracking Changes:
1. A chapter-by-chapter chart. I created a simple table in Word. For each chapter, I log the setting, the time frame, the key characters, and questions that I want the reader to have in mind by the end of the chapter. With the questions, I include questions about the main mystery plot (“Will the gangsters catch up with them?”) as well as the subplot (“Will Edge call Violet?”) I code the subplot questions in blue. This chart helps me see at a glance if I’m varying my locations, moving forward in time clearly or quickly enough, giving various characters adequate time on stage, and weaving the subplot through. The questions at the end of this chapter also help me determine if a chapter is too skimpy or full. If I have few or no questions arising, I haven’t added to the plot enough. If I have too many, the chapter may have too much information — maybe it needs to become two separate chapters or some developments need to move. By the end of the novel, all of these questions should have been answered somewhere. If not, I have loose ends to tie up.
2. Placeholders. Within the manuscript, I frequently type in ALL CAPS to indicate the type of information I need to redistribute or add somewhere. If I don’t have the time or energy to do so, or if I have a problem I need to think through, these are places I can return to later, I can easily see where I need to return when I’m reading through the manuscript. This way, I don’t feel like I get bogged down very often. I’m trying to move forward as much as I can, and go back to trouble spots and rough patches when my mind is most fresh.
Three Psychological Strategies:
1. Remain calm. I try to deal with just a chapter or two a day; if I can do more, great. Thinking of the novel as a whole, or deadlines, would just make me freak out.
2. Eat, sleep, exercise. I try to do one of those things every day!
3. Eat your kid’s Easter candy. Keep that basket right by you. Enough said.