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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Peaslee

Lessons I've Learned from Revising My Work in Progress

Updated: May 30

I'm working on a novella called Sorority Zombies in Space! I wrote it during NaNo, and put it aside for several months, as is recommended.


Enough time has passed and it's time to start revising my work in progress (WIP). Eep!


Because this is my first novella, this is a "learn as I go, and you learn with me" deal. Sound good? Excellent.


When tracking your progress, you have a few options. You can do it by word count, or by page number. I like to know how far along I am by percentage, so I use this handy percentage calculator because I'm bad at math.


Step One: Give it a Read

After you've stayed away from your WIP for as long as possible, quickly read it.


Everyone says it should be a quick read and not to make any corrections.


This makes sense—chances are, you're going to be making some big changes, and it doesn't make sense to make small corrections.


I failed to follow this advice. I couldn't stop myself; there were so many small corrections.


But it's probably best to follow the conventional advice! In that case, take minimal notes on things that are 1) confusing, 2) dull, or 3) need to be fleshed out.


Step Two: Write a Summary

There is no consensus on how long a summary should be. Mine ended up being two pages, or 1,000 words. Your summary might be shorter or longer; it should be as long as it needs to be.


This will help you see "the big picture" of your WIP.


Step Three: Create a Reverse Outline

Go through your WIP and quickly summarize every scene, noting what’s at stake, what character is being developed, or how it relates to the overall plot.


This step helps you determine which scenes are the weakest. 

Step Four: Write 2-3 Paragraphs Identifying Your WIP's Strengths

NaNoWriMo recommends this, and I think it’s a great idea because you will feel like the worst writer ever after reading your rough draft. At least, I did.


Step Five: Write 2-3 Paragraphs Identifying Your WIP's Weaknesses

Good thing you just wrote all those nice things, or else your ego would be crushed by this step!


Step Six: Make a List of Your Locations

I did this in order of appearance. Then add descriptions for all the important locations.


This step helped me isolate which descriptions needed work.


Step Seven: Panic. Wonder If You're Procrastinating

At this point, or at whatever point you start to panic (because you likely will), talk to other writers. They have been where you are. They can comfort you.


Step Eight: Make a List of Scenes to Revise/Add

Scrivener is very helpful for this (One day I'll do a Scrivener tutorial, maybe). I labeled my scenes that didn't meet the word count I wanted. I also have a desktop sticky note with a list of scenes to add. (I could have put that in Scriv, too, but I wanted it where I can see it a lot.)


Step Nine: Start Mapping Your Characters' Journeys

By this point, I felt that I was fairly well organized. I knew my major locations and which ones were lacking in description. I knew the strengths and weaknesses of my WIP.


But I was still having difficulty seeing the "big picture" of my story, so I started searching for editing software to help me. That led me to Fictionary, which I wrote a review of last week that you should check out. Fictionary helped me plot out my main character's motivations and goals scene-to-scene, and evaluate the tension and conflict throughout.


Step Ten: Hop to It!

That's it! That's where I am now, making the revisions I know are needed and evaluating my novella for further weaknesses.


I'll write another post about it when I'm further along the process.


Happy writing!



This is my favorite GIF

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