Writing Advice

Writing Advice #51: Revision Strategy


Confession time: I hate revising. Loathe it. Would like to stab it through the eye with a barbecue fork until it’s dead. Ask any of my editors — they will tell you that getting Lyga to commit to a revision is like pulling teeth. Your own teeth, that is.

I know authors who effusively praise the revision process, who say things like, “Revising is where the real writing happens!” Or “I don’t know the story for real until I start revising.”

Me? I’m the guy who once said on a panel, “If you have to revise, it means you fucked up in the first place.”

So, yeah. Not a fan of revision, am I.

Which is not to say that I don’t need to revise. I don’t mean to imply that my first draft is some kind of literary Immaculate Conception. From conversations with other authors, I sort of get the impression that my first drafts are a bit sturdier and cleaner than most, but that doesn’t mean there are no improvements to be made.

I just hate doing them.

I love getting that story out, and when it’s over, I experience an emotional rush. It’s like eating a great meal and getting up from the table, perfectly satisfied.

Revising, to me, is like then being forced to throw up that meal, reassemble it from the vomitus, and eat it again.

Are you getting the drift? I really, really, really don’t like–

Oh, you did get the drift. Good.

Anyway, among the many authorial questions I get, revision always ranks fairly high. Usually, I have nothing to say because I feel like I’m a terrible reviser and therefore I have nothing to contribute.

But right now, I’m revising a project that I hope to be able to tell you about soon. And I realized that revising for me works best when there’s some kind of structure to it.

Not structure to the piece being revised, mind you — structure imposed on the process of revising in and of itself.

Over the past few years, I’ve sort of stumbled upon a revision method that works for me. It makes the process marginally less painful because it turns it into a sort of puzzle. So instead of bemoaning the fact that I’m revising something that I should have gotten right in the first place if I didn’t suck, I’m instead assembling pieces in the correct order.

I can’t say that this is a particularly sensible way to revise, or that it will work for you. I can’t even say that it’s the best way for me to revise. For all I know, I’m actually making it harder on myself or missing out on a lot of opportunities.

What I do know is this: I’ve used this method on five or six books at this point, which is much longer than I’ve used any other method. And I guess that has to mean something.

So, with no further ado, here you go:

Step One: Assemble your notes.

If you’re revising, then you probably have a goal in mind. You probably have comments from beta readers and/or an editor to take into account. And you probably have some thoughts of your own that have bubbled to surface in the time since you finished the first draft of the manuscript.

I take all of those thoughts, notions, notes, criticisms, questions, and comments, and I assemble them into a single document. I don’t necessarily impose any sort of order on this document, so long as it’s very obvious where one thought ends and another one begins. (Seriously — a blank line between them will suffice. No need to set up a formal structure.)

Step Two: Label your notes.

Then I print out the document, however long it happens to be. Sometimes it’s a couple of pages. In the case of one book, it was nearly twenty pages long. Whatevs.

At the top of each page, I put a sequential letter. In other words, the first page is A, the second is B, etc. If I got to Z, smart-ass, I’d move on to AA, but that’s never happened.

Step Three: Read the F*%^*&ing Book!

You’d think this would be obvious, but I’m sure someone out there has tried revising without actually reading the book. But hey, look — you gotta read it! As you do so, you’re going to do two things:

First of all, you’re going to note on the manuscript itself any goofs or hiccups. Word choice, tortured sentence logic, what-have-you. Just like the good copyeditor you’re pretending to be.

Second of all, though, is the magic. As you read, stop reading at the end of each chapter and switch over to your pile of notes. Skim through to see which notes — if any — apply to the chapter you just read. Then go back to the manuscript and find the page(s) in the chapter that should receive the goodness of the note. Mark the letter of the note page on the manuscript page where you plan to implement it, close to where on that page you’ll implement it, too. Then put the manuscript page number on the note page, next to the note.

This is what a manuscript page and note page from my current work in progress look like. (Apologies for all of the blur, but…spoilers!)

Go on, blow ’em up. The first image is a page from the manuscript. You can see that I’ve written “A” and bracketed the last paragraph. When we go to the next image, we see that it’s note page A. And somewhere on there, you’ll find page 223 written next to a note in the modern cuneiform I call my handwriting.

Step Four: Go through the Manuscript

Once I’m done reading and noting, I just page through the manuscript, looking for my corrections and for my letters. When I run across a letter, I cross-index to the proper note on the proper page and implement the revision/fix.

See? Easy!

One great thing about my method (if I do say so myself) is that the randomness and repetition reinforce the changes. What I mean by that is this: Since I don’t impose any sort of order on my notes (and you’ll see that I also add some in pen as I go along), I’m forced at the end of each chapter to skim through the entire notes document. This means that I’m constantly reading the notes, imprinting them on my brain, so that even when I’m not focusing on them, I’m subconsciously working on them as I read the manuscript itself.

Maybe you’re one of those monstrous literary goblins who actually enjoys revising. (In which case, why did you read this at all?) But if you’re at all like me and find revising to be tedious, painful, and jaw-clenchingly anxious, give this system a try. I hope it helps you!

header image courtesy Nic McPhee via Creative Commons

Writing Advice #50: Recommended Gear

I recently wrote a series of BLogs on technology for writers and figured it would make sense to summarize the most important bits here in the Writing Advice section. You can go read the originals, or just skim here.

I live in the Apple ecosystem, so some of this may not apply to you. But it’s what works for me:

Desktop Hardware

My iMac and monitor set-upI use two monitors, the one built into my iMac and a Dell I bought for cheap online. If you can swing it/have the room, consider a two-monitor setup. You’ll find it lets you spread your work out and organize it more logically.

I use an ancient MacAlly iKey keyboard that is no longer manufactured. Even if they did make them, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest you buy one — keyboards are very personal. My advice to you: Find a keyboard that you love, that feels right under your fingertips. Go to stores and try them out. Don’t just type “This is a test of a keyboard.” Stand there for a while and pound out a few paragraphs. You’re going to spend a lot of time on this sucker — make it worth your while. (Even if you use a laptop, you can still get an external keyboard to use when at home. Depending on how much you like or loathe your laptop’s keyboard, this might be a worthwhile investment.)

Ditto for your mouse. I use Apple’s Magic Mouse, which is much maligned in the tech world, but I love it. YMMV.

Oh, and always use some kind of wrist support. You don’t want to blow your tendons out and have carpal tunnel syndrome.

Desktop Software

scrivener_iconMy composition environment of choice is Scrivener. Ten million features, but even if you only use six of them, they’ll be the six that change — and maybe save — your life. At $45, it’s a steal.

pages-iconI use Pages (free with purchase of an Apple computer) in lieu of monsters like Word. It has most of the functionality of Word (and can save to and open .doc files) without the bloat.

Mobile Hardware

I use an iPad Air 2. I know most people prefer a laptop, but I like the lightness and slender profile of the iPad. If you’re going to use an iPad for your out-of-house writing needs (or, hell, any tablet), invest in a separate keyboard. Typing on glass is fine for emails, but for anything long-form, you gotta have the real deal. I use an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, but as with the suggestion on desktop keyboards, find one you love.

When you’re traveling, you need to stay juiced up. I use a Phonesuit battery to top off my gadgets when I’m not near an outlet, and I have an XtremeMac InCharge Home power adapter so that I can charge two devices with one outlet. Consider your needs before you head out to the coffee shop for a writing session and make sure you have some kind of power solution in your bag.

Mobile Software

Textilus (Microsoft Word Office Edition, PDF Notes and Scrivener)PagesWith Scrivener for the iPad still nowhere in sight, I rely on Textilus for editing and composing on-the-go. I also use Pages on the iPad when compatibility with Scrivener isn’t an issue. Textilus costs only $5.99, but there’s a free version to try out. And Pages is free with the purchase of an iDevice.


A good backup plan is crucial for writers. Yeah, I know, you’re thinking, “I’ve never lost anything!” Guess what? That means you will.

There are a lot of backup solutions out there — too many for me to advise you specifically — but here are some general rules to follow:

1) Backup locally to a hard drive in your house or place of work. Have this happen automatically at least every hour.

2) Also, backup to a remote location. This can be a cloud-based service such as Backblaze, Carbonite, Crashplan, or some other one. But do it. You need an off-site backup in case something wipes out your computer and your on-site backup.

3) A backup that requires you to do something each time — push a button, plug in a drive — is no backup at all. You will forget. And the time you forget is the time your hard drive will decide to die, losing that chapter you just wrote. Your systems need to work automatically, without intervention from you. The best backup is the one you never think about…until you need it.

Now’s the time of year for gifts, so maybe surprise yourself with a new toy and get to writing!

Writing Advice #49: POV Addendum

So, a while back I wrote a lengthy post on point of view. It was chock full of info and you should go read it before proceeding any further. I’ll wait.

[Muzak plays]

Back? Great!

Recently, someone left the following comment on that post:

Thank goodness I found this site!

I’m writing an ebook series which I have not published quite yet. But the first will be out Dec.

I had a question maybe people are willing to help me with. I’m wanting to use First Person Multiple. I didn’t know what it was called until I read this site.

I’ve written the first two ebooks 1st POV from only one character’s point of view. I’m editing the third now, and I want to switch between 2 characters in different scenes. In trying to consistent with first 2 ebook, is there any way to do this while using 1st person?

Can a writer, wanting to use first person, start a scene in third person saying person’s name then quickly switch to first. For example, “Ace stepped slowly to the creek.” Then switch to first person, “I stared into the water feeling lost.”

In the next chapter, I would change characters and say, “Amen squinted at the horde of Undead charging. I swallowed, my body stiffening, preparing for the onslaught to come.”

Or are there better examples of how to do this?

Well, as I like to say, the only thing that really matters in writing a book is not what you do, but that you do it well. If you can pull off such a scheme as you have above and do it with skill, then fine.

But I have to be honest with you — it seems extremely clumsy to me. It’s going to throw off readers, jar them.

First Person Multiple is simple. Look, all you need to do is give the reader some kind of trigger that indicates you’ve switched from Character A to Character B. Something simple, like…



I was looking over the fog bank from my perch high atop Glassfoam Peak when I noticed…

And then, when you get to the chapter from another POV…



The clouds, their underbellies dun colored with dirty rain, parted just enough that far ahead in the distance I bespied the green-glowing angles of Glassfoam Peak…

Done and done. Sometimes authors will use different fonts to indicate different characters (Jodi Picoult does this, for example), but fonts are tricky to mess with in an e-book, so I don’t recommend that path.

Above all, though, remember this: Your greatest asset when writing First Person Multiple is making the characters’ voices distinctive! Theoretically, once you establish your characters for the readers, the reader should be able to tell the difference without any clues whatsoever…because each character speaks differently, describes things differently, etc.

Good luck!

Writing Advice #48: Parents

Hello, one and all, and welcome back to Writing Advice, a once-weekly, now ad hoc series of BLogs on, well, you figure it out. 🙂

I was recently asked this question over on Tumblr:

For writing teen protagonists, do you have any advice for creating the character’s parents? It seems to have become usual to make the parents absent or neglectful somehow. It may not be a realistic portrayal but it gives the teen protagonist a better chance at getting the freedom to get stuff done. What do you think?

Yeah, this is definitely A Thing, as far as I’m concerned. [Read more…]

Writing Advice #47: Motivation

Hey, it’s the return of Writing Advice, the once-weekly-now-ad-hoc BLog series in which I tell y’all stuff about writing! Didja miss me???

This week, we’re going to discuss motivation. Why? Well, because I got this e-mail a little while back…

I’m a young writer. I love writing, and I love creating stories, and fiction…. [Read more…]