Howdy, howdy! How is everyone’s August going? I’m still on track with the goals I posted last week. Writing and revision are slow, but I’m doing something every day. As far as books go, I’m currently reading Sandra Scofield’s The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it as a craft book. It’s not bad, but half the time she seems really into genre fiction and the other half it seems like she’s looking down on it. I’m just getting mixed messages from it. However, I have found many of the exercises in the book useful! I wanted to talk about one of those today: making timelines.
In all of the fiction writing classes I’ve taken, there’s always been at least one hardcore plotter (sometimes, it’s even the teacher). These are the people who swear by creating outlines and timelines of every little thing before they even begin writing. I’m not one of them. Sure, I plot things out in my head, but writing it down feels constrictive. I like to let my first drafts form organically. There’s no theme in my mind, no worry about subplots, none of that. I know point A and point B. Getting from one to the other should be an adventure. That’s just how I like it.
I admit that my approach makes revision difficult. I have nothing but the manuscript to work with, so trying to rework it into something readable can be a daunting task. That’s why, when someone in my writing group suggested the above-mentioned book, I decided to give it a shot. And you know what? It offered suggestions that I had never thought about before. Did you know that you could write your first draft with no guidelines and then make timelines and outlines and all of that plotter stuff after you have that shitty draft finished? Because I had never really thought about it. And now I feel like a complete idiot for not thinking of it sooner.
So, guess what I did! I bought a bunch of sticky notes and wrote out the main plotline, filling in stuff and taking stuff away as needed. In other colors, I took certain characters/groups of characters and wrote out what they were doing and important tidbits that needed to show up in the novel. Dad stuck them up all over my mirrors and now they taunt me every day until I do my work. I can’t say I did it correctly. I didn’t give each little plot point its own Post-It (only the major ones got that honor). I’m sure I could’ve used different colored pens for different plots and all that crap. But for my first time, I’m happy with it and it’s working for me so far.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because you’re not a plotter doesn’t mean you can’t try their techniques during the revision process. The book offers a lot of different suggestions, some of which I skipped in favor of others. I’ll read about the ones that I know don’t work for me, but it doesn’t mean I have to do them. If you’re having trouble finding a toehold in the revision process, pick up a craft book and try something new. Make timelines. Use sticky notes or index cards. Have fun. See what kind of pretty pictures your story makes. Or keep it simple like I did. Whatever works for you.
Speaking of things that work for you (or don’t), how do you go about revision? Do you make timelines before or after the first draft or not at all? Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and techniques here or on my social media pages!