For the first time in a while, I'm in a phase with this manuscript where the ball is in my court. As I've mentioned, the next step of the process is to work on revisions suggested by my agent (yup, still both weird and fun to say). Carrie sent me an editorial letter that I think really got at which elements are the heart of the story, and which elements aren't helping in their current form and should either be developed or removed. Several of her suggestions were large enough that they would require a lot of work, and of course, in a novel, everything affects everything else. That meant that on the first read of the letter, although I did a lot of nodding because the suggestions made sense to me (and even felt relieved at the idea of letting go of some things), I also felt like my brain was spinning as I figured out where to start.
Well, these revisions are still a work in progress, but I feel much more like I have a plan, so I thought I'd share the process that seems to be working for me. I'm sure it will be helpful to me on future manuscripts, but I hope it's also helpful to other revisers out there.
The first thing I did was read the letter a whole bunch more times. One thing I appreciated was that a lot of its suggestions were phrased as questions or choices. As in, here's something that needs to be addressed, and you could go in this direction... or in that direction... I agreed with Carrie's insights, but I also felt like there was room for discussion. I responded to the letter, partly for her benefit and partly for mine. In most cases, I gave an answer in general terms about how I planned to address the issue. In a few cases, I said that I'd see what seemed to make the most sense while I was revising.
Once I knew the significant changes I planned to make to the manuscript as a whole, I made a scene-by-scene outline. For each scene, I wrote a sentence or two about what, if any, major changes would be necessary. Then I added some smaller considerations to the ongoing list of revisions I've had all along, everything from "make sure this relationship is consistent" to "stop making characters nod all the time."
Then I started a new draft in Scrivener. (I've found Scrivener super-useful for organizing one frequently-changing draft, and a little more unwieldy for balancing multiple discrete drafts, but it's working.) The step I'm working on now is to go through each scene, migrating what text I can from the earlier draft and changing whatever I've noted on the revision outline. I'd say I'm close to halfway through this part, though it's hard to estimate because chapter breaks have changed a bit. Some of this work is just copying and pasting, some of it is small adjustments, and some of it is rewriting scenes or parts of scenes to account for a character's presence or absence or to make events happen in more exciting ways. Once I have the bones of a new draft, I'll attack the list of smaller considerations, which is organized roughly from largest to smallest (a trick I learned from a workshop at an NESCBWI conference).
Although I don't have an official deadline, there is someone waiting at the other end now, which hasn't always been the case for my creative writing. That makes me feel a lot more accountable for doing this work, and having a plan in place means I can say to myself, "Okay, this weekend you need to get four scenes into the new draft." This time is also serving as a valuable reminder of something I already knew: that the more often I sit down to work on a manuscript, the easier it is each time. Cory Doctorow was right: Don't be ceremonious.