How to Stay Organized During a Revision

Hi, everyone! Becca and I are back from our break and ready to rumble. We spent the week visiting with relatives, hosting dinner parties, catching up on the many projects that there’s never enough time for, and I managed to create a bunch of new nifty writing checklists.

(Watch for those in a coming post, or visit this insanely helpful Pinterest board if you just can’t wait!)

Janice Hardy RGB 72 3x4Today however, we have author and writing coach Janice Hardy (@Janice_Hardy) here with some terrific revision advice, so please read on:

Revising your novel can be a huge undertaking, and like any large project, going into it prepared can save you time and frustration. It can also help you complete that project in the most efficient and effective way.

How much feedback your manuscript gets before you start revising determines how much you have to keep track of. Detailed critiques from ten beta readers yields a lot more information than a first draft with no outside comments. Keeping track of it all can be challenging, but totally doable.

Step One: Gather Your Materials

Some writers like index cards and tape flags, others use three-ring binders and highlighters, and still others use software with electronic files instead of manila folders. Don’t forget about the non-writing essentials—your favorite drink or snack, reference guides, links to blog posts with great advice (such as Writers Helping Writers or my own site, Fiction University). If you think you’ll need it, put it within reach.

If you don’t have a preferred method yet, try these options:

Software: Collect all your notes and critiques in one file (or folder) in your favorite program. Microsoft Word’s Document Map feature is a handy way to create a table of contents to scan for what you want. Scrivener allows you to add extra text subfiles with everything you need right there per scene or chapter. Note-taking software keeps everything in one place, such as Microsoft’s OneNote or Evernote.

Three-ring binders and paper: For those who prefer a more hands-on approach, a binder can be the perfect fit. You can easily add and move pages as needed, and take notes anywhere. You might even have a separate binder for the manuscript itself, with notes and ideas written on the pages.

Tape flags and printed pages: Print out your manuscript and use different colored tape flags for different aspects of the revision. Tape additional sheets of paper to pages for extra notes, or write on the backs of the manuscript pages. Don’t forget scissors and tape if you go this route. Highlighters and colored pens are also useful.

Step Two: Gather Your Notes

Hunting through files for the feedback you want to address can be both time consuming and annoying. Collect everything in one place so you can easily access it when you reach that section of the revision. Create a story bible with important details to maintain consistency.

Put the notes into the manuscript file: Copy all the comments you want to address directly into the manuscript, so as you read through each scene, you’ll see what needs to be done. Add macro comments to the start of each chapter or scene, or in the beginning of the file. If you have multiple critiquers, you might use a different color per person or type of problem to address.

Create a master revision file: A master file with a summary and list of what you want to revise can provide a nice, step-by-step guide to follow—and a checklist to cross off when that aspect is done.

Print everything out: Hard copies could be a better option for those who prefer to edit from paper.

Use index cards: A popular organization method is to write out what needs to be done per scene on a index card, referencing page numbers or chapters. Put everything on one card, or use different color cards for different characters or options.

Step Three: Gather Your Thoughts

It’s not uncommon to try to tackle too much too fast, and end up frustrated and feeling like you’re not getting anywhere (or worse—that you’re just ruining the manuscript). Take the time you need to be in the right frame of mind to revise your novel and have fun with it.
There’s often a lot to keep track of during revisions, and a little planning before you dive in can make the entire process go more smoothly.

How do you prep for a revision? Do you prepare or dive in?

RYN 2x3

Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my new book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy and the Foundations of Fiction series, including Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft and the upcoming Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It). She’s also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

*Excerpted from Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft










Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
This entry was posted in Guest Post, Revision and Editing, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

84 Responses to How to Stay Organized During a Revision

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  2. Laura Ryding-Becker says:

    Thanks for sharing your process with us, Janice. I’ve always been partial to index cards, myself!

  3. Shay says:

    It is such a gargantuan task to get organized–for me. Appreciate the tips!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      My pleasure. Take it in small steps. The whole project can be too overwhelming, but stages are much easier to work with. You can apply that to the organizational process as well. Do a little at a time until you get it under control.

  4. Tamara Meyers says:

    Thanks so much for the suggestions. I seem to have notes on every conceivable size shape and color paper and in so many places that I need notes to tell me where I put my notes.

  5. Sara L. says:

    Great post, Janice! I prepped for the current revision of my WIP by compiling notes of potential changes, from over-arching / universal changes to chapter breakdowns. Then I formatted those notes as a checklist; and as I take care of each item, I’ve been checking or crossing it off.

    I also keep handwritten notes in between revising / editing sessions, since my brain likes to work on the story “away from the page” as well. And I’m glad I’ve been doing that – because I’d forget those ideas otherwise!

  6. Jill says:

    Perfect timing as I delve into my first revision! I have been putting off the organization part of this and just tried to start in, but I am seeing that taking the time to organize first will save hours/days/weeks in the long run

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Grats! It really does help. Part of it is just using that organization time to get in the right mindset for it. It can be hard to shift from “writing” to “revising” without a break. We approach them both differently.

  7. Vahlaeity says:

    It’s great to have a checklist like this to refer when trying to be organised. I also find colour helpful for quick references ( highlighting, rainbow post its, tabs etc.)

  8. Diane Martin says:

    I’ve had Scrivener for a while but had never used it for revision purposes until two months ago. I LOVE the index card feature and being able to change the labels to show the chapter’s current stage of revision. (“Finished” was my favorite label!)

    • Janice Hardy says:

      A satisfying label for sure 🙂 I love the corkboard. I use it a lot when I’ve blocking out a plot and still moving scenes around.

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  10. Janice, this has been very helpful! Generally, I print out the critique notes, and use them as I revise in Pages on my iPad. Occasionally, I will keep an uploaded WordDoc from a critique on my MacBook desktop for future reference. I certainly will be bookmarking this post as well. Thanks!

  11. Christy says:

    How do I prepare for revisions? I stock up on Dr. Pepper (they now make diet caffeine-free Dr. Pepper for late night sessions), and a big bag of spicy-sweet bbq popcorn.
    Seriously, though, I’m going to try some of these suggestions. I often find myself swimming in note files and scattered ideas for changes. For my current revisions I’ve started putting them in Scrivener, but I still need help organizing them.

    • Janice Hardy says:

      LOL that’s important, too.

      You might think about how you revise and what information you need when. That could give you an idea of what notes to group together and how to structure your revision files.

  12. This is some great advice for editing techniques. I usually print the pages, but for this last edit I did it from the screen and then waited until I got back the Beta Reader’s comments to print it out and go through it to make the changes.

    Thanks Janice. I look forward to reading more of your work.


  13. Dee Keymel says:

    It’s time I got organized. I have stacks of paper and notebooks that need to be put in some type of order. Thank you for your ideas.

  14. Rose Kerr says:

    Great information on how to get organized! I’ve been fortunate with my two Beta Readers, they’ve given me some great feedback using MS Word Track Changes and that has made it easy to work with.
    BUT I had difficulty organizing myself for the editing after I received the changes. I think what will work for me will be putting together a “master list” of the changes in each chapter – that will give me an overview and I’ll be able to work from there.

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