I Don’t Revise, I Retype

Actually, I do both.  I’m almost done with the third Sarah Tolerance book, and already my fingers are itching to retype it.

Cue the expression of horror on some faces.

Yes, I retype the whole damned thing.  This practice probably dates from the Olden Days™, when typewriters roamed the Earth and the only way to revise a typescript was, eventually, to re-type.  The way I did it, anyway, was to read through the whole manuscript, mark things up, and retype.  But very often the markups would be things like: Fix This.  Because I’m impatient, and really didn’t want to have to figure out on a molecular level what the fix was, when I had another two hundred pages to read and mark up.  So a lot of the actual fiddly work of fixing a bad line or rectifying an error in continuity would come in as I was retyping it.

And then the future arrived, bearing word processors.  New technology requires a different approach, I thought.  So I tried marking up the manuscript more minutely and going into the file to make those corrections and changes and additions.  Sadly, this left me with an unpleasant niggling sense that, um, I was missing things.  That there were edges that needed sanding and missed holes that needed a little bit of wood putty smeared over them and smoothed over.  That there were opportunities being missed.   That the whole book wasn’t a single unit yet.

At which point I realized that I still needed to retype it.

Since then, that’s been my process which, as Monty Python says, is mine. No one else needs to be this silly.  But there are added benefits.  When I’m retyping I’m up to my eyebrows in the work in a way that dropping in corrections and revisions doesn’t require.  I learn things.  I sometimes find that I left myself cues in the earlier draft that, discovered later, let me add more layers.  I rarely outline a whole book (my initial “outline” is usually a one-paragraph statement of what I want the book to do) so my process, overall, is full of discoveries of the “ooh! I can do that!” variety.  Many of the best discoveries come while I’m retyping.

Look: writing and process are intensely personal.  At Clarion, when Kate Wilhelm outlined her process, all of us (including her husband and co-teacher Damon Knight) looked at her with a little befuddlement because it sounded so odd to us.  But Kate is a wonderful writer, and her process works for her.

Retyping works for me.  What works for you?


Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone WarPoint of HonourPetty Treason, and a double-handful of short stories which are available on her bookshelf.  She has just finished The Salernitan Women, set in medieval Italy, and is now working on the new Sarah Tolerance novel, The Sleeping Partner.


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


I Don’t Revise, I Retype — 7 Comments

  1. I use color coded 3X5 notecards. One for each scene, with chapter and page number in pencil because they change, and a single sentence or two of what happens in that scene. These I keep on a notebook ring. As I move through the book I layer onto the cards post-it notes of things that I think are wrong, places I need to add things, and the occasional fix it.

    Next draft, the goal is to remove as many of the post its as possible. Then it goes out to readers.

    Each draft I read the entire book word for word, adding, subtracting, correcting. Printing out and re-reading no longer works for me.

  2. In desperate case, I have resorted to handwriting, copying over the last page or so by hand with a pencil onto paper. This seems to kick in the Handiwork Muse, who then takes charge and, if not diverted by knitting, kicks the flow of wordage into motion.

  3. That’s clever, Phyl — a bit like knitting a complicated pattern? I was about to try writing on cards for the next series. I might try something like that.

    The one process that stands out for me is a variant of what Brenda does. I always re-read at least the last two pages from the previous day’s work, sometimes as far back as the scene POV change. I tweak, weigh word choices as I go in, etc. This usually gets me back to where I was, and allows me to continue on with the scene/chapter whatever.

    I did test one theory about writing synopses, with Kindred RItes. Whenever I found myself adding something substantial to a scene or the overall plot, I went into the synopsis and added the information in italics. About a third of the way into the book, I found that I was not dropping anything — I was only adding. For that book, at least, I knew where I was going, and had left signposts. I didn’t finish the revised outline, as I hit the point where over 200 pages flowed out very fast — but it taught me that I could trust the inner muse.

    The question is, can I still trust her, after the decade we’ve had….

  4. I have taken to adding notes about what is going to happen at the end of what I am writing. To keep that alluring white expanse that perpetually calls to be filled, the notes are separated from the ongoing text by a number of line spaces. So if I’ve written the big murder scene, and know that the next moment the butler has to come in and be horrified at all the blood on the library carpet, I leave a note to remind myself — usually a line of dialog. “But, Madam! The Kirman — how shall we ever remove the stain?”

  5. I’ll write ahead of myself–which means later on I’m knitting in scenes that were written when I didn’t know what I know now.

    Phyl, I’m in awe of your system. It scares me to death–it sounds like something that would overwhelm my fragile grasp on reality–but I’m really really impressed.

  6. Once the first draft is finished it will get shut away in a drawer for about three months while my beta readers go over the manuscript. Once all their comments come back, I print the whole thing on paper and stick it in a binder and then read the hardcopy – I find things on paper that I never pick up on a computer screen – and often I’ll read aloud which highlights a lot of repetitive words. I aim to reduce the manuscript by 10% by tightening things up and stripping out entire passages if necessary. Then I’ll go through the edited version and make the corrections that the beta readers suggested.