Revision Slog – Novel as Algorithm

As I slog toward the end of my third major draft of my new novel, Untimed, I felt the need for brief procrastination in the form of detailing the process. Most people seem to discount how much grind and sheer time investment is required in writing (and revising) a novel, even a vey steady workaholic like me. Let’s do a little breakdown.

Untimed is actually fairly short, currently at 83,000 words and 38 chapters. This is MUCH shorter than my first book started out. Length is a factor because you have to iterate (i.e. read through the book a LOT of times).

Think of each major draft as a loop (I am a programmer) with various sub loops.

. Generate Idea (for the most part this kind of happens or doesn’t)

. Character Design and High Level Plotting (you could spend who knows how long on this, I don’t find it that useful upfront, most of it just comes to me while doing other things)

. The First Draft:

. Initial drafting: For each chapter (1..38) loop:

. Plot the beats in the chapter. This takes an absolute minimum of 1-3 hours even if you know exactly what’s supposed to be in there. Sometimes it takes several days of banging your head and talking to others.

. Pound out a first draft. I can do 2000-2500 words of new draft in one 8 hour day. I generally make this a chapter. Occasionally I’ll be on a roll and do two.

. Reread it to catch really stupid typos, phrasing, and make sure it makes sense (1 hour)

. Subtotal. For above book that represents 50-60 workdays (NOTE: if you take days off, it’s chronologically much longer). Notes on finishing the first draft, here.

. High level pass:

. It’s impossible when writing a chapter or two a day to see the big picture in the book, so you have to do at least one faster pass through afterward.

. I can do about 10-15,000 words a day like this, which is actually fairly brutal

. Subtotal. About 7 workdays. 1-2 full reads.

. Quick read:

. If you want to judge pacing you have to read it all in a day or two like a normal book, not on the computer

. Subtotal. 1-2 days. 1 full read.

. Draft total. About 60-70 workdays. 4-5 full reads.

. Wait for feedback:

. Since you have to finish something and send it to someone, even a paid editor will take some time to read it and return feedback. This usually takes several weeks. I try and overlap it with the cleanup passes, but it’s tricky.

. Revision Drafts (I’m currently finishing the third major redraft) so I’ve done two of these so far on Untimed:

. Plan, outline, and organize changes.

. Can take from a couple days to a couple weeks. Some thoughts on this with Untimed HERE.

. I can do about 2-3 chapters a full day of revision. So for each block of 2-3 chapters loop:

. Do the actual revision. This can be fairly grueling, involving initial big surgery, a smoothing pass, then a cleanup pass

. Reread it to catch really stupid typos, phrasing, and make sure it makes sense (2 hours)

. Subtotal. Plotting 7 days, revising 15 workdays. Generates 2-3  extra reads per chapter.

. Medium Quick read:

. Checking for consistency

. Subtotal. 3-4 days. 1 full read.

. Total for each revision draft. Approximately 25 workdays. 3-4 full reads. Notes on the second draft HERE.

. Wait for feekback. You have to find out from others, often people who have never read the book before, how a draft comes across. This takes awhile. A reader who gets back to you in a week is amazing. It often takes several and some gentle (or not so gentle) prodding. Or tossing them some money. Sometimes that doesn’t even work. I had one (paid) unemployed beta reader tell me that they couldn’t start it because it interfered with their watching TV! NOTE: Said individual did not get paid.

. Line Editing:

. When the big picture is all settled out one sends it out to an editor for Line Editing. This involves more editor time than author time, but still chunks of the book come back and one must go over the edits and install them.

. My editor will request a “compression” pass before sending it to her. This is an extra pass to try and self edit it first.

. I can do about 8000 words a day like this. Approximately 10 days. 1 read. This is brutal but can be overlapped chronologically with the editor’s line editing. I.e. I can self edit a chunk and then send it out, meanwhile self editing the next chunk while the editor is working on the previous one, then also fit in the next part (processing) of returning chunks in a pipelined fashion.

. I can “process” returned line editing at about 6,000-8,000 words a day. For each chunk loop:

. Read over the track changes version of the line edit in word, approving and rejecting various edits and making cleanups

. Copy over each scene in into the real draft. Cleanup formatting.

. Do a quick read of the chunk or chapters to make sure nothing got screwed up

. Subtotal. Approximately 12 workdays, but spread across more chronological time as the edits can’t churn out this much per day. 2-3 full reads.

. Quick read:

. If you want to judge pacing you have to read it all in a day or two like a normal book, not on the computer

. Subtotal. 1-2 days. 1 full read.

. Total for line editing. approximately 24 days. 4-5 full reads.

As you can see. This adds up to a LOT of days and a lot of passes. Finishing up the third draft here, I’m already on eight months and at least 12 read throughs, and I can look forward to several more of each.

For more posts on writing, click here.

5 comments on “Revision Slog – Novel as Algorithm

  1. […] For more detail on the revision process, see this recent post. […]

  2. […] halfway through my last polish pass on my third major draft of Untimed. This is one of the umpteen revision passes. Only another day or two to go before I send it off again and get down to waiting for feedback […]

  3. […] until I see in my head what’s going to happen, but after I finished revising my first novel (and there was a lot of revision) I decided to try to plot the whole second. This resulted in about two months of fairly […]

  4. […] already through the first 25% and I’ll be done by mid-week for sure, then it’s time for another full read and polish (by me) and the line edit (by them and by […]

  5. […] line editing. This was a relatively quick and easy draft (about ten days), although it still took the usual three passes/reads. I concentrated on beefing up conflict. Every book has its trouble spots. In […]

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