Revision neepery

So, to understate dramatically, I edit my drafts pretty deeply–to the point that my final draft looks nothing like my original one. This doesn’t scare me, but it occasionally scares those I describe my writing process to, sometimes because it’s just not their process (fair enough), but sometimes because even though they’d like to edit this way, the thought of making such huge changes is frightening.

Making huge changes doesn’t frighten me (unless you count the usual “OMG, this time there’s really no book here terrors which I gather are not unique to any one process), but as I was making my way through my final (pre-editorial-revision letter) edits to Faerie 3, I found myself thinking about a couple of things that help make it not frightening to me: keeping an outtake file, and saving as many backups as I want.

The outtake file is just a file into which I dump the things I’m a little wary of deleting but that I need to cut to move the story forward. By pasting these things into my outtake file, I’m telling myself, “See! Those things, they’re not gone forever! You can always take them back if you really need them!”

I rarely really need them, though it happens. But just knowing the words are saved somewhere makes it easier to cut them. (And cut I do. The current outtake file for Faerie 3 is around 35,000 words long, and I think I may have a second file somewhere for the book, too.)

Sometimes a change is too big for a bit of cutting and pasting to cover it, though. Sometimes I’m going back through a book and changing entire threads of story that run all the way through the book. When I’m about to dive into that sort of change, I save a backup under another name first. I also back up at the end of every complete draft–that goes without saying. (It also goes without saying that this is all aside from the fact that I back up the file I’m doing my main ongoing writing in every single day.) For Faerie Winter my backups have names like:

– bonesequel1.doc
– bonesequel2.doc
– lizaafter.doc
– faeriefire1.doc (and 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6)
– faeriefirebeforeswim.doc
– faeriewinter1.doc (and 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7)
– faeriewinterwithsnake.doc
– faeriewinterwithwolf.doc
– faeriewinternowolf.doc
– faeriewinterthirddraft.doc (and fourth and fifth)
– faeriewinterthirddraftwithnotes.doc
– faeriewinterinfaerie.doc
– faeriewinterourworld.doc
– faeriewinterprologueattemps.doc
– faeriewinternightbeforefinalpass.doc

Okay, so I kind of do this a lot. And once my editorial revision letter arrives, files like faerie_winter_first_draft_annotated.doc arrive with it (because for my editor, the draft I send him is the first draft all over again), and I save various versions of those, too. Kind of makes me wonder how I managed, back when all filenames were limited to 8 characters plus a file extension.

Some of these files are pretty close to one another, and reflect small-if-global changes, and some are dramatically different. I go back to these files more often than my outtake file (at one point writing Faerie After I had three drafts of that book, plus books 1 and 2, all open in various windows), but whether I look back at them isn’t the most important thing.

The most important thing is just knowing they’re there, and that I can go back–that none of the changes I make are irrevocable. They’re just words, and if I can change them, I can change them back again.

And that’s one of the things that lets me move forward.

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