On Scrivener: Revising


I said this before, in one of the other posts, but—for me—Scrivener shines brightest whenever I’m in full-fledged revision mode. I’ve used this method for two years now, and it’s been essential in helping me work my way through a draft in a manner that’s both thorough and efficient.

Streamlining feedback. In this post, I mentioned that I keep all feedback (my own notes + any I’ve received from critique partners/agents) in a single folder. Before I change a single word in my manuscript, I go through all my feedback documents and streamline them into a single bullet-pointed list of to-do items. I copy/paste each comment; then, in parentheses, I make note of the commenter’s initials and the corresponding chapter number. I order the comments chronologically. This might seem like a total time-suck, but it is MAGIC. This is what I like to call productive procrastination—going through the comments like this, one-by-one, gives my mind a better grasp on the landscape of the entire manuscript, the issues I need to address, and my plan of attack.

➳ Time + journal. This part of my process doesn’t use Scrivener, but it’s SO important, I couldn’t leave it out. While compiling all feedback into a list, recurring issues start to surface. Some are easy fixes, some are tricky. For the tricky ones, I take out a notebook and pen, and journal out thoughts about each issue on paper—the goal here is to make overwhelming changes feel more manageable, and to come up with concrete ideas on how to address the issue in the manuscript. It’s important (for my process, anyway) that I have these concrete ideas, my plan of attack, before making any changes to the actual manuscript.

➳ List management. I read a blog post by Veronica Roth once that touched on her method of revising, which uses “Global” and “Local” revision documents. Basically, after she compiles all feedback, she splits them into two documents: one for things that can be easily pinpointed/changed in a specific location (the “Local” document) and one for changes that will affect the manuscript as a whole (“Global” document). I’ve adopted this method, and it’s been incredibly effective! In addition to the notes in my original bullet-pointed list, I also include the solutions/concrete plan-of-attack ideas I came up with while journaling, spreading them throughout my lists according to their corresponding chapter numbers.

➳ Sections. I find it much easier to hold an entire manuscript in my head if I break it up into parts. I usually work in five sections, dividing them where it feels logical. For me, these breaks usually fall at the end of a big sequence, or at the midpoint, or just before a big shift in setting—really, you can divide them anywhere that makes sense to you. It’s basically just something I do to make the project feel less huge as I’m working my way through it. I make folders for each section in the Binder, and group all my chapter files into their appropriate folders. I also print my manuscript (two pages per sheet of paper) and divide it into the same sections. Lastly, I break my bullet-pointed to-do lists up by section, too. The goal: knock out one section at a time until there are no more sections left to knock out.

Split-screen*. I always keep my current scene open on the left side, and my to-do list open on the right. I consult the ‘global’ list briefly before starting—this helps me keep in mind the changes that aren’t so easy to cross off a list (have this character dig for more information throughout, work on the relationship dynamic between these other two characters, work on the pacing in Section II, etc.). The ‘local’ list is the one I keep open most of the time.

One chapter at a time. Making changes on any given chapter entails the following, for me:

Consult ‘global’ list so I can keep my eye out for places to work in those changes.

Consult ‘local’ list for the specific things that need consideration—typos, confusing wording, issues of logic, anything else that’s been pointed out. Even if you’re not sure you agree with the feedback, this is the time to consider it.

Read the chapter on paper, with purple/orange/pink pen in hand. I make changes on paper first, for the entire chapter.

➳ Make changes in Scrivener based on my on-paper changes. There are two reasons I make changes on paper first. One: it’s good to get the feel for the entire chapter before changing things—I sometimes make a change and find, four paragraphs later, something that renders my tweaks problematic. This way, I can scratch things out over and over on paper, rewrite—then I’ll be confident the file is clean when I go to put the changes in on Scrivener. The other reason: it’s an opportunity to double-edit the work, adjusting with tiny tweaks as I type in the changes.

➳ Check things off—this is super satisfying for me. After I’ve input all the changes in my Scrivener file, I draw a huge check mark through my on-paper page. Then, I go through and color-code…um…everything.

➳ Color-coding*. Every chapter/folder starts out red (my color for ‘to-do’), and every item on my bullet-pointed list starts out black. When I’ve tackled all the comments for any given chapter, I turn the list’s comments gray and then change the chapter file to green (good-to-go) or orange (re-read this) or pink (this still needs tiny tweaks, but I’m not sure how to fix them, and I’m saving them for later). Once all the chapters in a section folder are green, I turn the entire file green and consider it done. I work, systematically, through all of my comments on all my lists, until I’m confident I’ve addressed everything as thoroughly as possible.

➳ Follow-up list. Sometimes, after much consideration, I’m still uncertain about whether or not to take action on a to-do list item. Or, I’ve stared at the chapter for an hour, made changes, and I’m too tired/familiar to be able to tell if the changes are actually working. In both cases, time away + fresh eyes = a world of difference. I make follow-up notes in a new list, then make sure to go back and tackle them before I call a draft good-to-go.

There are lots of other useful ways to use Scrivener—snapshots* and keywords* come to mind—but these are the bones of my process. I sprinkle in the other features as needed, but ultimately, it’s amazing how much of my revision process can be boiled down to lists, split-screen, and color-coding.

And, of course, there are as many methods for revisions as there are writers—this is just what works well for me, and I thought it’d be worth sharing in case anyone out there is similarly wired. I’d love, too, to hear how others make Scrivener work for their processes, so feel free to leave a comment if you’ve found a method you LOVE!

Happy writing and revising, all!

For the other posts in this series, check out the ‘series map’ links, above. For more information about downloading the Scrivener software itself, go here. This is not a sponsored series of posts—I simply love the product and hope to help others get as much out of it as I have.

*More information on this term in the CHEAT SHEET post


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