Using Outlines for Revision

A lot of people consider outlines as something you need before you start writing your first draft, but I would argue that they’re a much more important tool for the revision phase of a project.

That’s not to say that having an outline when you’re doing the initial writing isn’t helpful. In a lot of ways it is. (Please refer back to the section about why you need an outline for more on that.) But revision is a whole other beast, and if you’re unprepared for the process, you can find yourself putting out draft after draft and never really getting the book/story you’re looking for.

Revision is the process of taking the book you have and making it the book you want. But if you don’t know what you want…

That is why I highly recommend using outlines for your revision process. And the more thorough the outline, the easier it is to put into place. Even if you’re a pantser, use an outline for revision. The story’s been written. You know how it goes. The point now is to make it coherent, logical, and beautiful, and to prepare it for whatever the end goal of it is (whether it’s to share with a few friends or family or send it off hoping for traditional publication).

If writing is a right-brained activity, revision is left-brained. And having the right tools and processes make left-brained activities flow better. Having an outline can help you see where you’re missing scenes, where scenes don’t make sense, where you can add in more conflict (or streamline some that’s too complicated).

And once you’ve planned out what needs to go where, then you make it do so.

I like to use a combination of phase outlining and note cards for my revision process. Note cards in particular can be very useful, because each scene is its own card, which means you can rearrange scenes or add/remove them without disturbing the entire outline.

So, if you’ve had issues in the revision steps of the writing process, look at adding some outlining in. It can also help to note what in particular you have to keep rewriting (character motivation, plot flow, etc.) and focus on that in your outlining.

What say you, squiders? Do you think using an outline for revision is helpful? Alternates or other tools you like instead?



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