MERC vs. BOOK: Revising a Novel, Part 1–Robots, Bedtime Stories, and Thunderstorms

Prologue (introduction about this series) | Part 1 (you are here) | Part 2 (what the book is about) | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7.1 & 7.2 | Part 8 | Part 9

Part One:

Robots, Bedtime Stories, and Thunderstorms

A few months ago I wrote about an app I use to help me sleep which, not coincidentally, is relevent to this whole revision process. Vital, even.

I put the draft of The Collars We Wear on my NaturalReaderPro a couple nights ago, expecting the usual routine: I turn it on, tuck the iPad on my night stand, and fall asleep to the rhythmic cadence of an artificial voice.

It was storming, the great rumble-hum of thunder, the scent of rain on the wind, the incandescent flickers of swallowed lightning in the clouds. (I sleep with the window open in summer for this reason.)

The app was reading to me. I turned up the volume just a notch to compensate for the storm…and could not fall asleep. Because I was listening to my novel. That thing I had written. And I wanted to finish listening.

“But I know what happens,” I told myself, confused. “I wrote it, didn’t I?”

Yes, my brain answered, but do you remember these turns of phrase? How the emotional impact works? The dialogue? How the characters interact?

I did not. I had hidden from this story; closed it away because it was scary, and I didn’t know what to do. And now it was showing me all the things I didn’t remember, and wanted to reclaim.

Exhibit A: evidence of the note-taking pass

There are many reasons we write. To share our stories, our dreams, out fears, our joy. Passion, philosophy, memory, revolution.

Stories take on innumerable shapes; stories have untold numbers of voices; stories can last forever.

If we do not speak, if we do not tell these stories inside us, what will become of them? How can the universe remember our voices, our hearts, if we do not share them?

A novel is a massive investment of energy, time, emotion, and self. A novel glitters with pieces of your soul, etched in prose, shining points of light towards your deepest heart.

It takes courage to write, and gumption to finish, and massive amounts of grit to step out from the draft and guide it into a book-shaped thing.

If you’ve written a novel of any length, you are awesome. Hell, if you’ve written anything at all, you are also awesome.

So, if–like me–you now have a draft…what comes next? I said in the previous post, I have no formulae. (I have no idea what I’m doing!)

We can go on an adventure and find out, though.

Log: Relevent Dates

On 7/6/16 I decided to do a terrifying thing: revise my novel, The Collars We Wear.

I chose an end date: I want a readable draft to send to betas by the end of August 2016. (And there you go: public accountability! Oh crap…)

On 7/7/16 I began the revision process.

Here’s how it starts.

Step 1: I began with a print-out copy of the novel.

2016-07-07 08.06.30

Small!Merc got into the habit of making hardcopy backups of all major projects, and thanks to past!Merc following that instinct, current!Merc has a double-spaced manuscript printed out and ready to go.

The draft is 63,000 words. Short, yes, and engrained with many [brackets] full of summary and placeholders. It’s okay! The story is finished and despite missing a lot in the middle, it has an arc I can follow.

I assembled it into a 3-ring binder for easy access and so I had a flat, physical surface I could scribble on when working. The tactile element is necessary–I’ve already seen this story on screen, and heard it read to me. Now, I need to hold the pages and be able to make notes with ink and paper.



Having already listened to the novel all the way through thanks to my robot-voiced app, I was familiar with the story again. It was fresh in my mind. I didn’t want to be trying to revise and constantly tripping up on wondering what was going on or if this section was relevent, or whose eye color changed mid-book.

(Perhaps you wonder: “Yes, but what is this book about, Merc?” I’ll get there.)

Macro note-taking

Taking a collection of Post-It Notes (shiny colors!), a pen (a nice ballpoint), and a yellow highlighter (easy to see and cheerful), I began skimming the novel from the beginning and plastering notes as I went.


With the story in my head, I knew a bunch of the large-scale changes I needed to make. It’s missing an entire POV from one character; I’m deleting the POV of a different character who kind of fizzled out as a perspective near the middle; I need to balance the three point of view characters’ scenes; I needed to do a few global find-replace for specific terms and words.

Basically, any big-picture stuff I already knew about (after listening to the book) and anything I noticed whilst skimming through pages, I noted with a sticker. Sticky notes provide me with a vivid, visual key so when I get to step 4, I can easily find what I’m looking for.

All the small, line-by-line nitty-gritty stuff? The polishing? That comes when the major reconstruction and additions are made to the novelthing.

Step 3: Macro, not Micro

The goal with the sticky-note-pass was simple: skim through the entire novel as fast as possible while jotting down notes on things that needed to be fixed, changed, added, improved, or cut.

(No, there is no color-coordination for the stickies. I just alternated with which color appealed to me most in the moment.)

The beginning is where the most work is needed: it’s lacking a logical progression, it needs additional information, and things need to be shuffled around for better impact and flow.

2016-07-07 11.16.17
Workspace–emphasis on “space” to work

Near the middle, I noticed I needed a lot of additional content–a new POV, additional POV scenes for a main character, plot-relevent information–so I would jot down things like, “Add R’s POV so she can continue her investigation” on a note, stick it somewhere on the page, and move on.

Big picture was my focus. Sure, I might have caught a few minor things and typos, but I just circled those in pen and continued onward.

I chose to do this on my day off, so I would have a large block of uninterrupted time in which I could power through this. My draft is just under 300 pages long, double-spaced, and I finished the sticky-note pass in about five hours (combined total).

Log: Time Spent

July 7th, 2016

8am to 10am [coffee shop]

11:15am to 1:15 pm [library]

7pm to 8pm [living room floor]



When I had done an initial pass through the novel, decorating it with colorful Post-It Notes to make it shiny, I took a short break.

The next step for me was to list all the major changes I’d noted while reading into one document and then compile them in once place. I decided to do this long-hand, like I’d done notes, because the tactile sensation was still pleasant and it kept me from fiddling incessantly with a digital file instead of working.

When I listened to my book, I could not change anything. NaturalReaderPro does highlight sentences as it reads, if you want to follow along, but you have no ability to edit in the program. This is good for me: I needed to listen, to absorb the story once more, and let it settle.

Creating an outline by looking at my notes did not take super long; I did not want to laboriously re-write out all the notes. I just picked the highlights and major themes I saw.

Screenshot 2016-07-07 20.15.07
bit of outline from notebook

Again, I’d chosen to do this on a day off so I could take breaks when necessary, but also cluster all the work into one contained “day” to keep up the brainspace and momentum.

With an outline in place, I could break down each of the city-sized tasks into smaller, more manageable things.

I created three major categories:

  • Additional Material (new POV sections, missing scenes, etc)
  • REARANGE ALL THE THINGS! (shuffling large chunks of text around)
  • Things To Cut (outdated information, wholesale scene deletion, etc)

I put this in the most important order. Writing new material is the hardest task, because (obviously) it means churning out new prose. I estimate I need an additional 30,000 words [30k] to fit in all the missing pieces.

Rearranging things is easier when you have all the pieces already available. So I need to write what I’m missing, and then I can sort it all out.

Cutting out material is tricky, sometimes, because a lot of the content in the soon-to-be-deleted scenes is necessary and I need to work it in elsewhere. I will have a scrap file to save all these scenes and paragraphs and snippets so I can take the information and weave it into the narrative when I hit the sanding & polishing stage.

(I rarely throw anything away. My sister complains that when I play video games, I invariably max out my character’s carrying capacity because I collect everything. xD)

I need to do the heavy lifting, the big scary tasks, before I can fine-tune anything else.

How long will all this take? I have no idea! I plan to designate blocks of writing time as I would schedule shifts at a job, worked around my current schedule, and tackle the first item on my outline: new words.

NEXT: What is this book about? And other fun things! (Also known as *flailing*)

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