The email was headed: ‘Here’s that film you were in!’ Hereafter, the Clint Eastwood film in which I was an extra, has just been released, and friends are making my day by sending me links whenever it’s mentioned in the press. Yesterday I got an article about a chap in London whose house was used as a location. It had to double for another house already used in the film, and the crew added false tips to the railings, replaced the front door, recoiffed the pot plants and wallpapered the hall.
It struck me that that’s a lot like revisiting a novel to do revisions. To start with I feel I don’t know the story any more, or live inside the characters, or remember the geography of their world. I have to go through a mental set-building phase in order to feel at home there again.
But I don’t just tip into the draft. That keeps me on the outside, like a new reader, and I need to be inside, behind the scenes, taking control of it all. I need to dress the set again. Here’s what I do.
1 Never throw your notes away
From the moment I start planning a book I keep copious notes. About the world, the synopsis, the characters. In one novel I’m planning, there’s a discography of all the music that exists in the world. When it’s time to revise I read them all again.
So many writers I know throw away these files when they send the novel out or hand it to their editor. But it’s never too late for somebody to suggest another round of revisions. The only time it’s safe to throw away your notes is when the book is between covers.
2 Get out your soundtrack
I need no excuse to make soundtracks for my books. First there are the pieces of music I choose to help evoke the initial mood of the story (and are an excuse to browse the Listmanias on Amazon). Then there are the tracks that grab me while I’m working on the book – a talisman for a particular scene, a theme to connect me to a character. Each of my books has a soundtrack, and I dust it off when I need to reconnect with the book again.
There’s an exercise I always do before a major edit. It’s called the beat sheet, which becomes an at-a-glance blueprint for revision. It helps me take charge of the book again because it focuses on the underlying purpose of each scene. Once I’m done with the revision, I keep the beat sheet because if I need to revisit the draft, the beat sheet helps me rebuild the set again.
Thank you, E Bartholomew on Flickr, for the photo. The beat sheet is one of the tools from Nail Your Novel, Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. Read an excerpt in the widget on the right, and read Amazon reviews of it here
Guys, what do you do to rebuild the set for a revision?