Monday, September 16, 2013

When Your Work in Progress Needs Early Revisions

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

As I mentioned last week, I recently turned in a teaser chapter and an outline to one of my Penguin editors.  This particular editor likes to see an outline before a book is written.
The deadline for the outline was actually Sept. 1.  The deadline for the book itself is January 1.  I have a self-pub project that I stopped working on to write this book, so I decided to go ahead and start writing the Penguin book while I waited for feedback on the outline.  There’s a bit of risk in doing so, since it means that I might need to make big changes on a work-in-progress.
And…I did end up needing to make those changes.  The editor liked the concept for the book, but thought the set-up in the first chapter was a bit too similar to the one in Knot What it Seams, which came out in February. 

My editor’s memory is flawless and mine is faulty.  Although that book came out in February, I’d written it in early 2012 and had written 4.5 books since then (including the quickly deserted self-pub I dropped to work on this project). I re-read the start of the story in question and did notice similarities.
My editor asked for two more suspects, or at least one more.  She also asked for me to include subplots involving 3 characters she really enjoys and feels that readers also enjoy.
While these weren’t radical changes, they were fairly substantial and would definitely require a rewrite of the teaser chapter I’d just turned in.
I was also already 38 pages into the book.
I started out by making a list. This keeps me from being completely overwhelmed by the task ahead.
Brainstorm new direction:  Who might work as additional suspects? I came up with as many scenarios as I could, and then picked the strongest.  How could I connect the requested subplots in with the mystery?  With the other subplot?  How could I make those characters grow or change in the process?  What was another way to start out the book…could I skip the set-up altogether and go right into the action? I picked the best ideas and dumped the rest.
Revise teaser chapter:  This had to be revised first, since it was technically overdue.
Revise outline:  Incorporate the additions in the outline (the additional suspects, the additional subplots).
Delete portions of the outline that no longer fit in with the revisions.
Make notes on manuscript:  Obviously, I was going to immediately rewrite chapter one because of the teaser chapter issue.  Then I needed to replace the original chapter one with the new one.
Make a note to myself on Word in Track Changes that page 12ish—38 were unedited.
Keep moving forward with story: For me, I do major revisions after the first draft is finished.  So I picked up on page 38 with the changes from that point forward, following the revised outline and the point that I was in with the story.  Others, I know, want to fix those other pages in between, but that’s what my second draft is for.
So I quickly revised the first chapter and sent it back to my editor, since she needed it for the end of the December book.  I finished the other tasks and am now picking up with the story as if the beginning of the book were already fixed.
So…yeah, it can be a little unnerving to get requests from changes from an editor in midstream.  It might not even be an editor—it could be a first reader or a critique group.  But by breaking it down into small tasks and prioritizing them, it does make the job a lot easier.
Have you ever made large revisions in the early stages of a project?  How did you organize the process?