Pacing, or, What I Learned Whilst Revising My Novel

So my second draft has been complete for a whole week now, and while trusty people are reading it for me, I’m busy working on a query letter and synopsis and researching agents. I read through draft #2 myself last Monday and Tuesday, and after trimming scattered unnecessary verbiage and deleting a scene from chapter three, I successfully wrangled  it down to 80,055 words, which was my hoped-for word count from the beginning. So that’s pretty awesome!

At any rate, I thought I would do a sort of follow-up to my post back in March about experimenting with revision techniques, when I was first figuring out how I wanted to tackle this second draft.

Probably my biggest focus during Draft #2 was fixing the PACING. As the shrunken manuscript pointed out at the very beginning, this was a HUGE problem area for this novel, and something I wrestled with a lot when creating my handy-dandy revision-battle-plan spreadsheet outline. That outline was THE BOMB. It really helped me work on the big-picture plot-and-pacing issues without getting bogged down in the prose, and even when I was entrenched in the actual slog of re-writing, it kept me on track. There were a few times where what I’d decided to do on the outline and what worked in the actual manuscript were two different things (most notably in a handful of the ending chapters when I tumbled down that GAPING PLOT HOLE). But for the most part it was invaluable, and I don’t think any outline should ever be so rigid that you can’t take the story in a slightly different direction if the narrative demands it.

Reading through the second draft, I was excited to see how much the pacing really had improved. All the scenes were there for specific reasons (except for that scene in chapter three, which is why it got axed), and the arc of the narrative felt more natural than before. I’m still vaguely uncertain about a few things that happen towards the end, especially whether or not I successfully filled that plot hole (that’s what my intrepid readers are for :-)), but overall I’m really pleased. I’m almost beginning to think that revising is more rewarding than first drafting, even though it’s more painful (and takes a heck of a lot longer)…

In any case, I’ve learned a ton about my revising process over the last ten months, and I feel more equipped to tackle revisions in the future (which is good, because I have a lot of them looming).

Without further ado, I give you Things I Learned Whilst Revising My Novel (a list):

  1. The spreadsheet outline is THE BEST.
  2. Numbering all the scenes on the hard copy of my manuscript is excessively helpful.
  3. Rewriting takes longer than first drafting, it just does. My subconscious needs time to work through problems.
  4. Actually fixing things in the manuscript is harder than figuring out how to fix them on the outline.
  5. Deleting unnecessary passages and scenes—even if I like them—is very, very freeing, especially if I stash them in a could-salvage-later-if-I-need-to folder.
  6. Finishing a second draft feels GOOD.

And there you have it.

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12 thoughts on “Pacing, or, What I Learned Whilst Revising My Novel

  1. If I might be nosy, I'm really curious: how much of draft #2 is text that was (polished but) originally in the rough version, and how much was newly-written stuff?

  2. That's a really good question! The very beginning and the very ending are almost exactly the same, and significant chunks of original scenes got to stay throughout, but the majority of them have been tweaked/added to/taken away from/rearranged. There's also a number of brand new scenes (and a few that were completely eradicated, but not a lot).

    So I guess to better answer your question, I did get to, if not always KEEP original scenes, heavily draw from them, and some definitely stayed pretty much verbatim from draft #1.

  3. Interesting, thanks! (My second draft is shaping up to be about 95% new writing, which is part of why it's taking me so long — when I just write I can do it quickly, but now I'm actually doing the writing AND making sure it all works and does what it needs to at the same time. Way slower going this way… Hopefully the polishing revision after this one will go quicker.)

  4. That's rough!! How much do you have left to go? And yeah, that is exactly why it took me SO LONG to write new scenes, even if they were short ones—making sure they worked and all that. Even the scenes I left alone I always re-typed, just because it gives me a better sense if they were still working with all the new material or not.

    GOOD LUCK getting through your revision!!

  5. I'm about halfway through now, and I'm hoping the second half will be quicker — that's hopefully mostly just cutting stuff out that was redundant or superfluous, but at least most of the elements are in place there. At least, that's what I keep telling myself… 🙂

  6. Congrats, Joanna! What a great feeling it must be!

    Also, loved how you broke this down and explained what worked for you and what didn't. Going through the revision process is so scary, but it's really nice to know you can take it all apart, but put it back together again and make it better.

  7. Hey Joanna,

    I have a question. I know it probably wouldn't take too long to do myself, but I'm curious if there are any quirks I might miss and… well… I was wondering if you have a template for your revising spreadsheet that you'd be willing to share, or if you know where I might find one. Thanks!

    ~Gwen

  8. Hi Gwen!

    On my outline I have columns for:

    CHAPTER NUMBER

    SCENE NUMBER (this was REALLY helpful in keeping track of how I was rearranging/deleting/adding new scenes; I didn't ever change the original scene numbers, so if I moved scene #63 to right after scene #25, I could see that clearly)

    POV

    CHARACTERS' AGE (I had this in there because in the early chapters my MCs are children and I needed to make sure their ages progressed correctly)

    SCENE SYNOPSIS (I used this to describe what was already in my scenes)

    SCENE NOTES (I used this to scribe the changes I wanted to make in the scenes, anywhere from “expand” to very detailed and long-winded notes)

    I think originally I had a LOCATION column as well, but I took it off because I wanted to fit everything at a reasonable font size when I printed it out. 🙂

    So those were the categories I used; pretty simple, but they worked for me!

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