Manuscript Revisions and Me

Photo credit: Hannah Grace, found on Unsplash

I read somewhere that revising is actually completely different from editing. Editing, they said (and I wish I could remember where I read this), was taking what was there and making it better; revising was totally reimagining what was written. I think they said something to the likes of, if you’re not rewriting 60% of the book, it’s not revisions.

I’ve understood this idea theoretically, less practically. But after last year I think I have a more hands-on understanding.

(Caveat: this, like all writing advice, you have to take with a grain of salt. I used to be a serious pantser, which made this advice make sense for me because I had to write the book before I understand what the book is, then go back and make it all work together. This may not be the best advice for you. It’s also not a rule. Just something to ponder in your revision journey.)

Throughout most of 2019, I rewrote a manuscript that I’ve been working on for years. (This is the one that was picked up by a small press for a while without publication.) I talk about the beginning of this rewrite here, and my success using Google docs here. As mentioned, I changed a lot in the manuscript. I went deeper. Interrogated my plot and character decisions. Threw away anything that didn’t make me excited.

(Then I sort of fell off the face of the blog-planet there but we’ll just ignore that. Blame bad depression episode and #because2020)

Usually I started by taking a section I didn’t totally love, created a new file, and then free-wrote, started in a totally new place, or really anything different to try to change things up. Most of time, I ended up hitting on something better. Or maybe it was something that could be merged with the original scene in a way that brought out what I was really trying to say.

During this whole process I specifically did not look at word count. I’m wordy and I knew that if I paid attention to how far over I was, I’d just be paralyzed. When I finally had the manuscript is one piece and fairly coherent, then I finally looked at my word count.

And realized I needed to take out about 40k-50k words to be within publishable limits. THAT amount of extra wordiness I was not expecting, and I entered a whole new phase in the manuscript revision process that was more intensive and time-consuming than I expected. So 2020 became the year of “is this scene really needed” and “how do I say that but short.” (If you’re interested, I really got into Instagram stories and you can watch more of a play-by-play of what I did here, though the first several slides are just pictures of computers and coffee. Hm. Maybe I should turn all that into a blog post.)

In narrowing down the amount of words, I was able to clarify the main thread of the story, too — which also meant it wasn’t the end of the rewrites. The last fourth of the book I pretty much completely threw out and redid. And I’ve rewritten my opening scene and last chapter about a hundred times now.

Throughout all of this, I have changed more than I thought I ever would. I figured the “redo 60% of the book” was more a guideline and not a rule. And I’ve found that I’ve probably either lightly or totally redone probably closer to 80% of the book. But this wasn’t all at once, and not all of it was drastic. I still believe the core of the story is there. The heart of the story may even be better, in fact. My craft as a writer has improved a lot since the manuscript was held in contract, and even more since I completed it, closer to year 2015. Most scenes had to go through an update process now that my skills have improved.

I think what I’m trying to say overall is that don’t be afraid to change things. Sometimes our first instinct about a scene is right, sometimes it’s wrong. I had to get very critical in order to start cutting or changing scenes (and when I say cutting, I mean copied nicely into another file, I rarely ever totally delete anything). And you know what, my manuscript is so much freaking better because of it.

And I know that instinctive fear a lot of us have, to change anything drastically or cut a scene we love or even shift tone, when it might change too much. It’s okay. You can always go back. Even the act of just trying something new may bring to light something you didn’t even know to think about. So. If you take anything from this. Don’t be afraid to try new ways of writing something!

My hope is, going forward, that I’ll get better and faster at this whole revisions thing, and it won’t really take this long every time! This was really my first endeavor into *this* kind of serious revising. There was some pitfalls, then depression, and then 2020 — it took longer than expected, but I learned a lot.

It continues to surprise me, how much I still have to learn. I suppose that’s a silly thing to say. But it’s so exciting. I think I have a decent understanding of something, and then find out there’s so much more to know. To learn. To experience.

ANYWAY. At this moment, my manuscript is out for some initial beta-reads. Right before the holidays, I hit a bit of a wall. I think I still need to take out about 10k words, and I definitely wasn’t seeing the story clearly anymore to know what I could take out, or what needs to be done. So I decided to get feedback on the manuscript as a whole, to guide me on the (hopefully) final changes to this manuscript. I’ll be talking beta-reading here soon.

While I wait for feedback to return, I’ve been reading, working on other writing pieces, and, hopefully, I’ll be getting back into the habit of blogging.

Until next time!

About R. K. Brainerd

I've been writing since my pre-teens, mostly in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. Taking interesting concepts and dropping complex characters into fantastical worlds is my jam. I also raise dairy goats and herd cats, the evidence of which can be found on my Instagram. Welcome to the adventure. View all posts by R. K. Brainerd

7 responses to “Manuscript Revisions and Me

  • M.A. Crosbie

    I loved this so much, and it resonated with my recent revision experience with my first novel. I’ve rewritten the first act sooo many times, and last year I took out all other POV chapters except for the MC’s. But I still think I need to rewrite MOST if not all of it, as you had to do. It’s daunting, and I know I can do it, but I think what’s scared me most is, what if I do all that work, and it still isn’t where I want it to be? (I know I can just keep revising it forever, but I’ve been working on it for eight years now *sob* so goshdarnit I really want to finally get it right!)

    Anyway, I loved this post, and absolutely feel you on the extra struggles that 2020 and depression have added. You’ve inspired me to dive back into my revisions though, and I wish you all the best with your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • R. K. Brainerd

      I am so glad you appreciated this! It’s been such a strangely hard thing to do, and I COMPLETELY understand your worries. I’ve been working on this one for… I think six years? It seems like it never ends, and I always find the next thing I can fix, or I don’t even know how to fix it, or, or. I know we writers have a problem with perfectionism, but seriously when do I know when to end?? Yeesh. I am just so hoping I can find an ending point after the beta-reads come back. I know it’ll never be “perfect,” but… anyway, you know what I mean!

      Ahh, it means the world to me that I’ve inspired you a little! Absolutely the same back to you — you’re are going to rock this manuscript and make something amazing. I 1000% believe it.

      Liked by 2 people

  • Nicole Evans

    Ahhh, Rebekkah, I just love this post so much!! I definitely really resonated with the growth idea and how it’s okay to acknowledge that what we once loved could actually improve (the amount of changes I’ve put into BLOOD PRICE, even after loving it so much in early drafts, shocks me sometimes). I am so stoked you were able to learn so much from this experience and I think it’s going to be awesome for you as a writer going forward. Just the fact you were brave enough to take such a daunting leap is so inspired.

    You awe me!

    Liked by 3 people

    • R. K. Brainerd

      You are the sweetest! Now that I’ve done it it’s kinda… I’m not sure what I was afraid of? Or maybe it’s really that I just love this new version as much as the old, but had to work myself into it.

      (Also, I am really looking forward to reading the changes to BLOOD PRICE someday, since I got to read the version before!)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Nicole Evans

        Yeah, I think it’s so interesting, because every time I’ve been afraid of something in writing and conquered it, it’s not nearly as terrifying as what I thought, so then I’m like, “Why am I like this? JUST DO THE THING.” XD

        (Ahhh, I really hope you like the newer version. It’s heart is still very much the same, but so many details and other elements have changed ((for the better!!)) and I can’t wait to see what you think!!)

        Liked by 2 people

  • The Point of Beta-Reading is Not to Ruin Someone’s Confidence | Awake Dragon

    […] this whole conversation to now (and about me again, sorry). After finishing up the revision process I talked about last time, I decided to buckle up and do this beta-reading thing for real. In an organized and structured […]

    Liked by 1 person

  • How to streamline your manuscript | Awake Dragon

    […] a lot as a writer in the three years since the manuscript originally went under contract. I ripped things out and rewrote them A LOT, and at the end of it, discovered my word count shot through the roof to 160,000 words. […]

    Like

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