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/