Novel Revisions: Sharing the Pain

I’m no expert on producing novels, but I’m finding ways to survive it, including sharing my pain as therapy for myself, as well as hoping it will help ease the pain for others.

This is only the second novel I’ve worked on, but I’ve made it all the way to a fifth draft. I did two drafts before anyone laid eyes on it, then took a few chapters of it to my writing workshop and shared chapters of it with my writing pals. (thanks, Richard and Leanne!) I did another full draft and sent the entire thing out to a round of beta readers, received their input, did a fourth draft. Once that draft was done, I sent it off to yet another set of beta readers and now find myself on the fifth draft.

The fifth draft. It seemed overwhelming. Now how do I fix it, to take it an even higher level? How do I work in the scenes I need to add? How do I round out that character, give this character more stage time and work that brand new character in? All this with the knowledge of how much time I’d already put into this novel weighing down on me and here I was, about to commit more time to it?

Days went by. I’d get out my novel document, my notes, and stare at the screen. Nothing got fixed.

Just as things looked bleakest, like I might never win my battle to polish a fabulous manuscript, I found hope. When we’re ready and willing, the teacher will come, as they say and I found my teacher in the form of a blog post on The League of Extraordinary Writers called, “Revising: How To Avoid Staring Into the Black Abyss.” Written by Elana Johnson, the blog post opens with these words:

Okay, so imagine you’ve finished the fifth draft of your amazing NYT bestseller. You’ve let some time go by. And now you’re ready to edit the manuscript. Again. (*Note: for the purposes of this post, editing and revising are synonymous.)

You sit down, open the document, and…proceed to stare into the great black abyss like somehow your MS will edit itself.

This was it! It was as though this blog was written especially for me in my desperate time of authorly need. (I’m pretty sure I heard hallelujah book angels singing). Elana gives ten tips on how to edit, polish and get your manuscript out the door.

Her advice was to print out your entire manuscript and read it from the beginning, marking the pages with line edits, notes on insertions of scenes etc. Then, transfer it from paper to the computer. I’d heard this before, I’d done it for my other novel, but for some reason, I needed to be told it again.

Plus, Elana had a slightly different approach. Tackling the entire novel at once can be a daunting task, so she suggests chunking your manuscript. (note: not chucking your manuscript) She says “It’s much easier to wrap your mind around 100 pages rather than 350. So chunk your MS into manageable sections.” She split hers up into three parts.

With a jubilant heart, I rushed off to Staples and had my manuscript not only printed, but bound so it would be easier to handle and I could edit on the go. I joyfully read through, marking up the pages with a pink pen (it’s friendlier than red!) correcting everything I could find, leaving notes for new scenes and changes. I reached the one third point and was ready to switch to the transfer stage.

Ugh. Enter the pain. Making all those changes to the actual document proved to be not as much fun as scribbling all over the hard copy. I would describe it as tedious, at best. I kept telling myself with every page I transferred over, my novel was getting better and better.

As I write this blog I am now on the second chunk of reading and am back to happily scribbling all over my work. Am I looking forward to transferring this second chunk? Noooooo. But I’ll do it. And I’ll do the same process to the third chunk of the novel, because I know it’s going to mean a better finished product.

For all of you in various stages of revising your novel, I feel your pain and I wish you all the best. Don’t give up! Your hard work and effort WILL all pay off in the end, in the form of a polished manuscript you can be proud of.


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  1. Sophie Playle
    04/03/2011 at 6:27 pm Permalink

    Thanks for the great link. It’s reassuring to see others go through the same turmoil! Good luck with it all 🙂

  2. Sandra Wickham
    04/03/2011 at 8:43 pm Permalink

    You’re welcome, and I agree, it helps to know others are out there in the same rocky boat. 😉

    Thanks for the good luck wishes!

  3. Erika Holt
    04/03/2011 at 7:23 pm Permalink

    Your perserverance is an inspiration, Sandra! With that kind of work ethic, you are sure to succeed in this business. Go go go!

  4. Sandra Wickham
    04/03/2011 at 8:42 pm Permalink

    Thanks, Erika, kind words indeed. I’ll come back and look at your comment when I need a kick in the pants. 😉

  5. LeeLee Loves Cards
    04/03/2011 at 9:06 pm Permalink

    Oh yeah. Revise that baby! And the PINK pen definitely helps. You go girl!

  6. Sandra Wickham
    04/03/2011 at 11:39 pm Permalink

    Thanks..I owe you a lot of thanks for helping me so much through the various stages of this novel!! 😉

  7. Andy R
    04/03/2011 at 10:59 pm Permalink

    Great post, Sandra!

    I really like the idea of binding the ms chunks like you did. Definitely easier than working with a stack of loose-leaf paper. 🙂

  8. Sandra Wickham
    04/03/2011 at 11:40 pm Permalink

    I even took it on the cruise with me! With the flight there, the week long cruise and the flight home I got a whole 15 pages done..LOL. I tried.

  9. Ryan McFadden
    05/03/2011 at 1:01 am Permalink

    I like your idea of dividing it up into chunks — yeah, much more manageable. I read Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson in the summer. 1000+ pages and very dense. I wonder how much he had to edit 🙂

    Anyway, something that was suggested to me (by Randy McCharles of Calgary) is to also change the margins. It’s amazing what pops out when you change something.

    I have to ask…why do you think it needs a fifth pass? Because you sense something is wrong, or because that’s a pre-defined number? You definitely have the dedication (assuming you’re not lying about the previous four passes…you’re *not* lying, are you?). But yeah, I’d like to know your process of how YOU know when it’s finished (other than being on the NYT bestseller list!)

  10. Sandra Wickham
    05/03/2011 at 1:20 am Permalink


    I have to say, because I’m such a NOOB, there were a lot of things I missed in those first drafts. It was only about 70 000 wds then,and I did two drafts before I let anyone see it. Once I sent it to beta readers, most of the feedback was about adding more “layers,” subplot etc. So I added it.

    The next round of beta readers, same sort of thing happened. So I’m adding in yet MORE exciting stuff. (of course it’s exciting..ahem) It’s up to 81 000 wds now, and I think I’ll get it up to 85 000+ by the time I’m done.

    So while I’m doing line edits, I’m also adding a LOT of stuff that I probably should’ve had in there in earlier drafts. Plus, I’m trying to make it as polished as possible, because the next step is to send it to my mentor Diana Rowland. She’s looking forward to shredding it to pieces, so this fifth pass is also my way of getting it “Diana ready.”

    In future, I’d hope to do less drafts!!

  11. Ryan McFadden
    05/03/2011 at 1:32 am Permalink

    So this is actually, gulp, like a first draft. Because then Diana will take it and do her thing with it. Then you start over. Interesting.

  12. Wendy Wagner, Inkpunk
    07/03/2011 at 6:59 am Permalink

    That’s great advice about breaking up the text into chunks! I will definitely save that advice for my next god-awful novel-editing experience.


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