I had no idea the amount of work that went into keeping the info in an entire novel straight. Writing short stories and fan-fic did not prepare me, but the lessons I learned struggling through it the first time were priceless. In today’s post, I’ll share some of them and how I’m determined not to repeat the same mistakes during my second book.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably heard me talk about the inspiration for my debut novel, Dust on the Altar. You’ve heard about how it started it as a draft in NaNoWriMo 2015, with little more than the title and premise decided. Five years later, I self-published it as a book. What you may not have heard is the torture I went through to get it there. I lovingly call this time the Spaghetti Swamp of Revision Sadness. There were times I wanted to quit. Times when I wasn’t sure I was cut out to be an author, and that I would never get my book finished.
Looking back, I’m so grateful that I didn’t quit. Looking forward to the sequel book I’m currently drafting, I’m worried I’ll get stuck in that swamp again. So today I want to take just a minute to share what I think are the main reasons I struggled so much and how I’ll hopefully avoid it this time. If you’re about to start revising your first novel, heed my warning and avoid the swamp.
The first time is always a challenge.
Dust on the Altar was my first novel. Just the fact that I’d never written a story that long before and didn’t know what to expect put me at a disadvantage. This time around, I’m aware of things like the fact that changing one detail can cause issues chapters away. So, this issue isn’t even something I’ll have to fix.
If you’re about to revise your first novel, just be aware it’s going to take more time than you expect. You’re also going to make mistakes and wonder sometimes if you’ll ever be able to finish. That’s ok. Just keep going. Like when you drafted it, every word is one closer to finished.
Full novels have so many details.
Remembering all the little details so that I can keep them consistent was a struggle. With my first novel, I was creating everything from scratch. That meant that some things I invented, I would forget the next time I wanted to reference them. Part way through, I tried to keep track of things I thought were important in a notebook, then I switched to within the Scrivener program, then I tried an online outlining program. Having info in so many different places made it difficult to find the info I needed, and I wasted time trying to find it.
Now I have everything in World Anvil. An online platform developed for gamers, but recently modified for writers as well. I know right where to go to find what I need, and for anything that’s not already logged, I can quickly and easily input it. I plan on writing a review of the platform soon, so stay tuned for that.
You don’t have to use World Anvil, but I do recommend choosing one place to keep track of all the details. It will save you time and headaches during revision. Even if you’re not liking some aspect of the platform you’ve chosen, just stick with it, at least until your current revision is finished. Then, while it’s out to betas or your editor, you’ll have time to copy everything into a new platform.
Organization is a must
I didn’t have a way of organizing the edits I needed to do. This caused two issues. First, I never knew quite how much more I had left to do, or how far I’d come. This added to my stress and made me feel overwhelmed at times. Second, I would often go to fix something that I already had or try to fix something that needed something else fixed first. I also went round in circles, trying to figure out how each change would affect the rest of the story. This is how I came up with the name Spaghetti Swamp of Revision Sadness. I felt like I was lost in a swamp that was dragging me down.
To help this time, I’ve got a system down, where I can log my needed edits by categories, and check them off as I complete them. I also can easily add new edits when needed.
If you don’t already have a system to log edits, a simple list on a spreadsheet or word doc will work. I suggest separating them into these groupings:
- Major Global edits- Things that may affect other parts of the book (change in character motivation, anything having to do with world-building or plot, etc.)
- Minor Global edits- Things that won’t affect much, but need to be corrected throughout the book for consistency (change in character description, name change, etc.)
- Local edits- Things that only need to be changed in a specific location or chapter.
As you’re editing, you’ll think of something else that needs to be done. Don’t stop your current edit! Instead, write down a sentence or so of what needs doing in the correct grouping, then get back to the edit you were already working on. Stopping the current edit to go fix something else-even if they’re related-will only confuse you more, and you’ll risk running in circles (the spaghetti part). By jotting it down on the list-even if it’s a very simple fix-you can complete the edit you’re already on without worrying about forgetting the new one (the swamp part).
Outlines aren’t necessary, or are they?
I didn’t have a roadmap to keep me on track. Not everyone needs or wants an outline. But I think it would have saved me a lot of trouble if I’d had one. Drafting the second book went much smoother with a basic outline. For one thing, I never had writer’s block. All I had to do was look at my outline to know what should happen next. When I did get stuck, I simply wrote the scene from a different point of view, then came back to the actual story once I’d figured out how to write what the outline guided me to.
Another way the outline helped was to keep me from veering too far off from my original vision. Outlines aren’t cut in stone, but sometimes that cool idea you have isn’t all that cool in hindsight. With an outline, you can chase that idea if you want, or stick to your original plan. Either way, the outline is there to remind you where you wanted the story to go. And if the new idea turns out to be something you want to keep, you can always adjust your outline to reflect that.
I suggest having at least a bare bones outline before you draft your first novel. You can always abandon it part way through if you don’t think it helps. If you realize part way through you need one, stopping to outline what you already have is time-consuming and feels like taking three steps backward.
If you refuse to have an outline, that’s fine. Do what works for you. But consider making a simple one once you finish your first draft. Just a sentence or two about what happens in each scene or chapter. If you can write them on notecards, even better. Before you revise, look over your outline for trouble spots. Sometimes you can’t see them until you have a simple overview of the entire story. Make note of any issues in your edit log and carry on.
If any of this helped you, please let me know. Leave a comment below or you can reach me on social media through the links. Good luck on your writing.