At the end of last month, I set out to explain what exactly I've been doing to my novel during this revision. As you may have noticed, I'm taking a long time and many posts to provide an answer. This is, of course, all a carefully designed way to demonstrate the slowness of the process. Show, don't tell, and all that. Absolutely my intent. No question.
Previously on this rambling account, after I wrote a second draft of the novel from scratch, I brought the manuscript to my critique group and learned where the story still fell short of what it could be. The work with my critique group took about three months in the spring and summer of 2010, which gave me a good break from actively working on the novel. I've reviewed the records of my life to figure out what else I did during that time -- it was mostly reading, real life stuff, and starting this blog.
My first step in revising the novel again was to plan out the changes I wanted to make. I recommend this step. Whether or not you use any type of outline or notes when writing a first draft, it's valuable to prepare for subsequent drafts by taking stock of what you've written and how it compares to the story you're trying to write. Without this preparation, it's difficult to know how to even approach a revision.
There are all sorts of ways to map out your story. You might want to use index cards and sticky notes, or you might prefer software. I used both in the planning stage for this revision, and both were useful.
Now, if you look at those two posts linked in the paragraph above, you'll notice they're dated six months apart. I would not, in general, recommend that you spend six months on the revision planning stage. Especially if the real delay is not so much the intense planning and research you're doing but instead your tendency toward distraction and your fear of getting started. To be fair, there were also a couple of months in there when life responsibilities consumed most of my possible writing time, but still.
During this prolonged planning stage, besides making notes on little bits of real and virtual paper, I also took the bold step of reading my manuscript so I knew what I was dealing with. And I wrote a detailed synopsis of the plot as I wanted it to be in order to test my intended changes in miniature before applying them to the actual manuscript. I recommend both these steps for anyone preparing to revise.
But again, I advise that you try not to take forever about it. There's a fine line between planning and procrastinating. I'm usually on the wrong side, and that's part of the answer to the question of why I'm not finished revising yet.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ Juliette Wade discusses Completion, and Resonance: why the first chapter is like the last: "If you've been writing for any significant length of time, you've probably heard people say that last chapters should come full circle, and that they should resemble first chapters in some critical way."