24 January 2011

Creative Nesting

For those interested in hearing about some of my revision experiences, I present the first in a four-week series. (For those not interested, you can stop reading now. Thanks for playing.)

The week before I started revising, I found it helpful to spend some time organizing...or, as I like to call it, "creative nesting." First, I made a To-Do list for all my non-writing tasks. As you may know, I'm a huge fan of lists; they keep me calm, they focus my brain, and I get a certain thrill from crossing things off.

After the To-Do list was made and out of sight, I downloaded Scrivener (at the recommendation of many writing friends), and now that I have the hang of it, I find it indispensable. The program invites you to break up your novel into bite-sized scenes, which makes the whole process seem more manageable, in a Bird By Bird sort of way. And it allows you to keep all your research and notes (family trees, maps, photos, etc etc) on-hand, so there's no toggling between multiple applications. I have a little notebook I keep in my bag, where I scribble down revision thoughts and ideas when I'm on the go, but when I'm at home, I transcribe most of it into my project file.

Also, I love Scrivener's outline function, which boils your story down to its bare bones...it's quite list-like in its way. I used this to plot my revision schedule; looking at how many scenes I needed to revise vs. how many days I'd given myself, I started with a five-chapters-a-week mini-deadline. I later adjusted this to three chapters a week, which feels more comfortable. And so far, I've stayed on target.

For me, organization goes beyond the manuscript itself. I need to feel that my environment is neat and organized, too. So I'm engaged in the ongoing process of cleaning my house top to bottom, starting with my office. I clean and organize a different room or area every few days; there's something about the sense of everything being in its proper place that motivates me creatively. On a smaller scale, merely doing the dishes or a load of laundry or making the bed can give me the peace of mind I need to get back into my story, especially when I have a thorny scene to get through.

So...those are a few of my pre-revision rituals. What are yours? Or do you just jump in?

Next Week...The Getaway


  1. House nesting: I have taken my lists making to a new level.
    Next to each task, I write how long I think it will take... (ie 2 hrs, 3 hrs)
    then, when I look at the list I pick something that fits into that day's schedule. Breaking it into time-chunks has helped get this ship a little bit shaper.
    which leads into revising: I have to do the same thing for writing, I need time allotments.
    Maybe I should find a factory time punch!
    (I am very interested in THE GETAWAY!)

  2. Perhaps I need to try the cleaning and organizing method! (I'll do anything--even revise when I'm not in the mood--to avoid cleaning. I'll even cook to avoid cleaning. Sigh.) But, boy, do I love a list!

    I'm interested in what you think of Scivener. I tried it a bit. Maybe I didn't give it enough chance? I don't know. But I've started a new project in plain, old Word, and I've got a mammoth revision to tackle, but I told myself I was taking January away from it. Did you somehow important your manuscript into Scrivener to begin your revision? And when you say you are tackling three chapters a day, did you look at the big picture first? Or are you looking at each one individually and taking it as it goes?

    I thought I was getting really close with my manuscript after my last revision. Then I decided to change a few things--they were big--but, still, I didn't realize how much everything else would change. As I said, I've now got this bloated, sprawling...almost like a rough draft again THING. I'm glad I made the changes but, as you can probably sense, I'm a bit scared about where to go now. My first draft was 91,000 words long, and I cut it to 71,000. And revised some more and changed from close third to first person and from past to present tense....and now, after the changes, it's an ugly 99,000 words! (GAH!) And, so . . .

    Sorry....I, too, am eager to read about the getaway!

    Good luck!

  3. Kara, I don't know what it is. I get on your blog and start commenting and it's WAR AND PEACE. (Hopefully more peace than war.)

  4. Laura: I am a big fan of time-chunks. I even allot myself procrastination time. When my mind starts to wander, I say, "Okay, you have fifteen minutes to check your email and eat a piece of chocolate, and then it's back to work!"

    -K : )

  5. Kellye,

    I was wary of Scrivener at first, but I don't think I really gave myself the chance to learn how to use it and adapt it to my needs.

    For instance, you might find it helpful to import that 99K manuscript by chapter, and break your chapters into scenes. Each scene is given a synopsis index card, where you can summarize its main action, and the "revision window" for each scene has a space for notes, where you can jot down details re: character development, remind yourself of stuff you want to add or change, etc. You can choose to view JUST the index cards, which creates an instant outline. So much of revision is being able to hold on to a sense of perspective; I think Scrivener is an excellent tool in that regard. And of course, others with more experience with it can probably speak to the million other ways it can be helpful; at this point, I'm just a newb.

    As for my own revision, I printed out my outline via Scrivener, took a look at how many chapters I have (15+), then decided how many chapters per week I wanted to tackle. I'm feeling pretty comfortable with 3 chapters per week, but I scan the whole enchilada once or twice a week to make sure I'm maintaining a sense of continuity and big-picture perspective.

    If I were you, I'd try to outline first, whether it's via Scrivener or Word. If you do it via Word, try listing each chapter, the major plot points in each chapter, and how many pages each plot point takes. I think it might provide you with a fresh outlook, and can show you where the story is (and isn't) flowing.

    Yours in maintaining peace,
    K : )

  6. Thanks for the advice, Kara. I was planning to make a scene-by-scene outline when I started the revision anyway. Sounds like Scrivener might be a great help with that--I'd just forgotten what it could do. Good luck with your revision!

    Peace out,