A Reasonable Revision Schedule?
I have been struggling for the past few weeks on revision. Not the how to of revision, although I suspect I could always refine my process. I am trying to grapple with how long revision should take. This is not because I am impatient, but because I want to know that I am proceeding at a reasonable pace and set workable goals for the week. As a consultant, I am used to having a clear idea (give or take 10 percent) of how long a project that stays within scope will take me – I need to be able to do this in order to provide accurate quotes to clients. I can be very disciplined in revising consulting work because I have a budget and I have to meet it.
But writing seldom stays within scope. You can go deep in revision, changing the story line significantly, causing a cascade of other revisions and as I play around with my own novel I can’t help but consider a multitude of alternate directions I could take the characters. Having a reasonable target in mind would help me in determining whether I am going too deep, changing too much resulting in a completely new novel, rather than a revision. One could potentially revise forever.
Most accomplished writers would suggest that the time required for revision will be influenced by the quality of the first draft, the desired quality of the final draft, the writer’s own pace and how many hours a day the writer is working. This makes sense. I found that some of my earlier chapters that had already been reworked a few times could be revised in about eight hours for a 15 page chapter. However now that I am in the middle sections where sometimes chapters need to be entirely rewritten with the creation of at least 10 pages of new material, it is taking me up to 25 hours per 20 pages.
I decided it would be helpful to know about other writers’ revision processes to help me to understand what can be accomplished in various time frames.
There is no set answer with regard to how long revisions should take. Some writers, such as Holly Lisle, claim that you can revise a 125,000 novel in two weeks (This floored me, but check out her suggested revision process – it is really useful). However in reading further, I found that others did not spend significantly more time revising with other suggestions ranging from a month to two months. Nevertheless, one suggestion was that the revisions should take 80% of the total writing time.
One blogger suggested looking at the length of time it takes for professional writers to write novels and noted that the majority of writers produce new books every 2 to 3 years and observed that most of them probably write full time. Thus it is likely that they spend at least a portion of this time revising – I am going to assume at least 6 months.
The norm for number of revisions seems to be between 3 and 6 revisions. However others will only do one major content rewrite, and then one line edit, while yet others do only one major edit. One sensible suggestion was to do no more than 5 revisions – one for content and structure, one for words and consistency, one reading aloud, one read through in one sitting to pick up any last inconsistencies and finally if necessary a final revision to cut 5%.
However some great writers have noted that they have revised 20, 50, 75 times. Playwright Neil Simon even called his memoir Rewrites.
Some interesting things to think about with respect to revision. Barbara Cartland wrote 722 books in her lifetime, which amounts to about a book every 40 days. Agatha Christie wrote 80 detective novels and an unlisted number of romances, which is more than a novel a year. If you want to go more literary, Joyce Carol Oates has written 100 novels in 45 years.
I am not sure I learned anything from this exercise other than to keep moving ahead – although I think I will stick with my original goal of doing my revisions in seven months. I am five months into that process and half way through the novel. Maybe I’ll have to increase that to eight. For a hilarious look at revision going from 7 years for the first novel to 7.5 hours for the second novel, check out Darcy Pattison’s blog.
"Books aren't written - they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it." - Michael Crichton
There seems to be a good string of sevens here. Maybe I will stick to seven months. I need a stretch goal.
Photo Credit: kaitlyn rose via Compfight http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/