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 a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools 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.

  15. Great advice! I’m just moving into the editing phase, so this is perfect timing.

  16. Mary Balice says:

    Although I don’t often comment, I read your posts religiously. Thank you for the great suggestions. My current revision plan is systematic but not organized. Perfect recipe for unnecessary anxiety. I hope I’m willing to try some of these ideas! Thanks again!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Thanks so much 🙂 If your plan is working, even if it’s not organized, no need to change it. But if it IS causing you anxiety, maybe pick one thing on this list that resonates with you and see what happens. Maybe all you need is a *little* bit of organization.

  17. Marti Parham says:

    Great advice as usual Janice.

  18. karen Hallam says:

    I enjoy all the revision advice I can get. Though it all seems to go in one ear–or one eye and out the other. (ha!) I wind up using the index cards. Clear, short and easy to use. Thanks, Janice!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      I used index cards a lot with my first few novels. Loved them. That’s one thing I like about Scrivener–they have that corkboard area where you can do cards on screen.

  19. Rayna Reveur says:

    Thanks for the tips and the giveaway!

  20. Wise words! Happy to see I naturally follow most of these steps when revising. I am in love with Scrivener. Such a great place to organize notes, store deleted scenes, etc.

    My personal favorite process during revision is to send my mss to my Kindle and read it like a book. Boy, do typos and awkward phrasing pop!

    Thanks, Janice!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Oh good! I love how two comments next to each other use the opposite techniques to edit. One find paper more useful, the other finds the ebook more helpful. Such a great example of how different options work for different writers.

  21. Sarah Floyd says:

    Great post! I’ll incorporate some of your ideas.

    My favorite revision tool is to copy the ms to a flash drive and have a copy shop (Staples) print (double sided, like a book) and spiral bind it. Typos, repetitions, rambling passages and plot holes seem to pop up easily, after reading the ms multiple times on the screen and somehow overlooking those glitches. Also, I feel more comfortable about making bold changes, with the hard copy as a saved original placed right next to the keyboard, for quick comparison.

    • Janice Hardy says:

      It’s so easy these days to print out our work and get it bound like that. Hard copy often lets us see what the monitor doesn’t.

  22. Lisa Leoni says:

    Thanks so much, Janice! I am working through your 31 day revision posts and just picked up your revision book the other day. It’s so helpful!

  23. Great advice Janice! Revisions and organization are both my nemeses, so I need all the help I can get in this area 🙂

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Thanks! Hope one of these click for you 🙂 I’ve found One Note to be a fabulous tool for keeping things organized. And it’s cross-platform, so you can have it on your computer, phone, pad, and everything syncs.

  24. Kimberly B. says:

    Thanks for all the helpful advice! I’ll admit, I find revisions very overwhelming and organization is a bit of a challenge. But I have been exploring the ways Scrivener allows me to keep my manuscript and notes in one place, and using the synopsis feature to create the editorial map of my story, which really helps.

    • Janice Hardy says:

      It’s a lot of information to wrangle. Take it a step at a time and give yourself time to figure out what you want and how you plan to achieve that. It’s much easier when you approach in in small bites 🙂

  25. Sherry says:

    This is so cool – all of a sudden I am running into a whole bunch of blog posts about revision/editing, and they’ve all come at just the right time… I’m *attempting* to revise a book I wrote a year ago, so it’s been helpful!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      It must be the season for it 🙂 Maybe everyone is trying to get their books done before NaNo hits so they can write a new one.

      Good luck with your revision! Hope these tips help keep you focused and organized.

  26. Shelly says:

    I like to utilize the binder and keep all my critique notes in a folder.

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Great! Everyone says we’re turning into a paperless society, but I know so many writers who prefer to edit on paper, and some even write their first drafts in binders.

  27. Thank you for the great advice, Janice. The revision process can be exhausting. After my second draft of a recent novel, I decided to consider “passes” for each mini revision – basically meta revisions looking for one type of thing such as verb tense, filler words, description, etc. This made the process feel less painful and each step more achievable. It also helps to have some solid moral support during the revision process. For me, this is where I tend to experience more moments of low morale. So, having a buddy to keep you motivated can really help keep you moving forward!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      I love revising in stages like that, and I do that, too. It’s much easier to focus and work on one aspect at a time. And you’re right–it helps with motivation because you can see progress. I also think it’s easier to catch problems that way, because you aren’t trying to spot multiple things at the same time.

  28. JC Martell says:

    OneNote is especially useful for “inline” notes. As you are writing, you can quickly add a line “note” indent your note and collapse it so it doesn’t clutter up the page, and continue. Then it’s there when you come back for revisions.

    Besides just text under that “note” line, you can have links to website articles or documents (or embed the document itself), clips from any source you can view on the scene (which will automatically insert the source link), and links to any point in other pages, plus many other handy features to organize everything for your revision plan in one place.

  29. I tried this with my current WIP, and I think I cut years of revision by just being organized before even starting!

  30. Great post with excellent practical ideas. As writers we are not always that practical!!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      LOL, we are not. I grew up in a house full of accountants, so I think that’s where my love of office supplies and organizational tools came from. It doesn’t always spill over into the rest of my life, but it usually works with my writing 🙂

  31. EmilyR says:

    Great advice, Janice! I’m mid-revision and didn’t set out in an organized manner. It’s been quite a learning process.

    • Janice Hardy says:

      But on the bright side, you’ll learn what you need to do before you start the next one. Think of it as a way to determine your best revision process 🙂

  32. Every project is different and you’ve helped me see that. Thanks, Janice!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      They really are. Some books take everything we normally do that always works and tosses it right out a window. 🙂 Annoying, but then we can sigh and say, “Oh, this is one of THOSE books,” and adapt to what it needs.

  33. Carol Malone says:

    You said, “it’s not uncommon to try to tackle too much too fast, and end up frustrated and feeling like you’re not getting anywhere.” That’s where I’m at. I was supposed to be finished with the editing of my next novel by January of 2016. I’m still not done. I try to do several passes through the story looking only for plot holes, pacing, unnecessary narrative, etc., but I get stuck doing line edits. Structure is what I need and Janice’s advice is exactly what I need. Thank you ever so much for this post, Angela. Love your books!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Glad I could help. Looking at the big picture edits first helps with that. I’ve found getting the story right before I look at the text saves me a lot of time and hassles.

  34. Amber Polo says:

    Great place to start! Helpful to keep on track for a revision.

  35. Diane says:

    This post is perfectly timed! I am beginning revisions now and am struggling with where to start.

    Di R

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Perfect! I always advise to start big and edit toward small. Get the story the way you want it, then the scenes, then work on the text. Best of luck on your revision!

  36. melanie redler says:

    So helpful–I am overwhelmed by revisions and revisions TO revisions and this really helps! Thanks!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Most welcome 🙂 If it helps, I’ve found working from the big issues down to the small ones works well. For example, I make any story changes first, then worry about line edits and polish. Until the story is the way I want it, it makes no sense to clean up the text.

  37. Brandon says:

    Fantastic post, with tons of great advice! As someone who’s new to (and, admittedly, slightly terrified of) the idea of beta readers, this helps a lot. My revisions on past work have always been fairly disorganized, with bits of information scattered among random Word documents, scribbles in notebooks, and notes on index cards and Post-Its. I’ve been using Scrivener for about a year now, but I’d never thought about using it to keep track of critiques and other revision-related materials until now. Thanks for all the tips!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Thanks so much! Beta readers can be scary, but find people you trust and let them know what your fears are. I’m sure they’d be happy to give you supportive and helpful feedback.

      Scrivener is great. It keeps everything in one place.

  38. Carol Baldwin says:

    a great post! I keep a running list of things to add or change. I just need to remember to consult it!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      LOL that’s the hard part, right? That’s why I started organizing my revisions, actually. I’d finish on,e then find an entire critique I forget to read.

  39. Elizabeth Searle says:

    I’ve completed five first drafts but published none, mostly because I have trouble keeping track of what I’ve changed as I’ve gone along. I get frustrated, decide I’m making the draft worse instead of better, and move on to a shiny new idea before long. I’m trying to stay more organized this time and will definitely use your suggestions. Thanks!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Ooo that’s rough. I think a plan will really help you. You can work on specific tasks, ignore the big picture until it’s done, and be able to see your progress.

      Good luck!

      PS. At the risk of self promoting, my Revising Your Novel book might help you as well. It would give you specific questions and tasks and walk you through the whole process. I wrote it to help writers just like you who are struggling with a manuscript revision.

  40. Such a great post, Janice! The revision stage can be so intimidating. I’m very hands on with my edits, so I like to print out all the notes so I can highlight stuff and cross things out. But everyone’s different. Thanks for sharing so many different ways to keep it all manageable :).

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Thanks! I’m fairly hands-on as well. There’s something so satisfying about crossing something off a to-do list 🙂

  41. Janice Hardy says:

    Thanks so much for having me!

  42. Great advice here. Thank you, from someone who is currently revising and hoping I’m making my ms better, not just longer 😉

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Most welcome, and I’ll send good revision vibes your way. 🙂 You are not alone in that fear, we all have it at some point, so hang in there.

  43. Isabelle says:

    Can’t wait for the blog tour. Thank you.

  44. Isabelle says:

    This was perfect for me since I just entered the ARMS part of my story. Thank you.

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