Thursday, February 25, 2021

Revision Tips for Pantsers: 3 Steps to a Full Rewrite

By Orly Konig, @OrlyKonig

Part of The How They Do It Series

JH: Having to revise on a tight deadline can give any writer nightmares, but sometimes we have a lot to do in little time. Orly Konig shares tips on how she managed a full rewrite in just five weeks
as a pantser. 

Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world. Now she spends her days chatting up imaginary friends, drinking too much coffee, and negotiating writing space around her cats. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and a member of the Tall Poppy Writers. She’s a book coach and author of The Distance Home and Carousel Beach.

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Take it away Orly…

writing women's fiction, genre, chick lit, character-driven novels
Orly Konig
If you’ve seen any of my other posts, you know I’m a pantser and, like many of my pantser-mates, I’m happiest letting a story unfold as I write and chasing down whatever breadcrumbs the characters leave behind for me. So, imagine the fear that came with an almost complete rewrite of a manuscript with a deadline of five weeks. Yeah, not much room for meandering there.

When the editorial letter came in, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cry, or update my resume and look for a job as llama groomer.

Let me just say that I adore the editor I’m working with and her vision for the manuscript was insanely on point. She knew exactly what I wanted but hadn’t quite figured out how to get onto the page. The gift she gave me (other than the grey hairs and bags under my eyes), was a renewed energy for my story.

But renewed excitement or not, there was the minor detail of turning the manuscript around within the deadline.

Step 1. Read the editorial letter, sleep on it, then read it again.

I spent a couple of days reading and reading the editorial notes and trying to wrap my head around how to implement the changes. I highlighted portions that made me sit up and yell, “YES!” and I scribbled notes with ideas triggered by her questions or suggestions. Some of the suggestions weren’t right for the book the way I wanted to write it, but they helped spark other ideas.

The problem was, the more I noodled, the clearer it became that this wasn’t just a case of revising what was already there. I was going to have to write a mostly new story to make the changes work. Basically, what I had was an 80K brief. Helpful in that I at least knew who these people were and what made them tick. Not helpful in that so much of what I already had (including a few scenes and a couple of characters that I really, really loved) no longer worked.

So, what’s a writer to do?

I abandoned everything I’ve learned works for me and tried something new. (I’m only half joking).

(Here’s more on Organizing the Chaos: 5 Revision Tips for Pantsers)

Step 2. New story document.

Once I came to terms with the idea that most of what would come next was new writing, I stopped thinking of what I was doing as “revision.” I opened a new document and started with Chapter 1. There were a handful of scenes from the old version that I was keeping and for those, I copied and pasted (and revised as needed since some characters had been evicted from the story line). As terrifying as staring at a blank page can be, it was also quite liberating knowing I wasn’t trying to force my story to conform (happy pantser).

(Here’s more on Outlines Are for Revision (Say What?) A Different Approach for Your Process)

Step 3. Plot points.

Sorry, fellow pantsers, I used the Plot word. But stick with me, you’ll see this doesn’t completely violate our pantser oath. I drew a big W on a poster board and labeled the steps along the way – you know, Setup, Inciting event, First turning point, etc. Then I used one color of sticky notes to track what happened in each chapter and placed it on the appropriate place on the board. This was done after I completed each chapter.

Since my story relies on the timing of a couple of holidays, I printed calendar pages to keep myself honest on what happens when. I used a different color to see when each chapter takes place.

Now, here’s where I’m in danger of losing my pantser card. In yet a third color, I wrote out what I think needed to happen to the end of the story.

(Note from Janice: You're safe! Pantsing is for drafting, not revising. Even if that revision is a rewrite -grin-)   

(Here’s more on How I Trick My Pantser Brain into Plotting)

Putting the Steps into Practice

Each day, before sitting to write, I’d look at the W board and review the flow of what I had so far. This exercise provided the refresher for the story without sending me down the rabbit hole of rereading what I’d already written. It also provided the “because this happened” prompt for the scene I was about to work on.

Next, I’d take the sticky notes for the upcoming scene and write out bullet points of what I wanted to write. Sometimes the plot points I’d originally brainstormed were spot on, other times the story, as it was unfolding, dictated a change. But each morning, I had a starting point. And when the word count goal of 3,000 words a day is giving you the hairy eyeball, having a game plan is key.

I’ve played with elements of this process before although never to this detail (I can also say that I’ve never written this much, this fast before). I tried something new and it worked. There are parts of this process I fully intend on trying out when I start writing something new.

My advice …

Don’t be afraid of trying a new process, especially if it pushes you out of your comfort zone.

About Carousel Beach

A cryptic letter on her grandmother’s grave and a mysterious inscription on a carousel horse leads artist Maya Brice to Hank Hauser, the ninety-year-old carver of the beloved carousel she has been hired to restore in time for its Fourth of July reopening in her Delaware beach town. Hank suffers from Alzheimer’s, but on his “better” days, Maya is enthralled by the stories of his career. On his “off” days, he mistakes her for her grandmother—his secret first love.

While stripping chipped layers of paint from the old horse and peeling layers of fragmented memories from the old man, Maya untangles the intertwined secrets of love, heartbreak, and misunderstandings between three generations of strong willed women.

You can read the first chapter on the Forge/Tor blog.

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  1. Thank you, Orly and Janice, for this post. You have no idea how much I needed to read this today. I'll have a major rewrite waiting for me. Not because my editor says so, she hasn't seen it yet, but because Covid happened and went in the wrong direction, getting worse instead of better and the situations and holiday celebrations that I had as major cornerstones just won't be possible anymore. Like Orly, I'm a 99% pantser, but will use A LOT of sticky notes and the W for the task. Again, thank you for this article and giving me hope that it's doable.

    1. I'm glad this helped. I did the exact same thing with a shut-down manuscript and had to set it aside for a bit until I could dig my head out of the mess. Working on a different one helped. And sticky notes helped. Because STICKY NOTES! :-)

    2. I am a pantster, too. The idea of sitting down to plot frightens me. Although I have the rough idea in my head, much happens in the writing process.
      I think I need to use the sticky notes idea for a story I've had on hold for over a year. I've done the beginning and the end, but am stuck as to how to get from one to the other.