Revisions can be scary. In a more formal process, writers will get an edit letter from a CP, agent, or editor. Edit letters are usually intense and a lot to take in at all at once. Some edits might be on the line level, some might be big picture stuff that requires reworking (and then that may lead to more things that need revising!) This can be even more intense for neurodiverse people as we’re not always good at prioritizing action items based on need or size. We also have lots of immediate emotional responses that are often hard to parse through!
(It’s not all doom and gloom--ADHD folks are known to be highly creative!)
I generally read the edit letter through a few times over. I might jot down some notes and first reactions that I then tweak as I re-read. Once I have that list, my immediate goal is to rearrange and regroup the items. This is the most important step because I’m going to use the grouped items as my guide throughout the entire revision process.
How do I group the revision items? I put them into high level categories. For many of us with ADHD, big ambiguous tasks can be beyond daunting. Making groups and categories helps me break up the big stuff into smaller, more manageable chunks. The groups usually include some variation of these three categories:
- Character arcs
- World building
- Factual / Structural edits
This one’s pretty straight forward – its the edits I need to do to make the character arc stronger. Character arcs are usually my weakness, especially in early drafts. Sometimes those edits might also include additional voice tweaks. For Storm, while Remy’s arc mostly stayed the same (discovering who she was), her voice shifted from draft to draft as I tried to nail down her attitude toward that journey. So for those revisions, I had an additional sub-category of “Voice edits” as well as tweaks to her character arc.
My first drafts are always light on world building because I only add what I need for the character’s arc when I need it (and usually nothing beyond that.) This means my early readers come back with a lot of questions about how the world works outside of what the character experiences directly. At a high level, these edits might include explaining motivations for antagonists, adding deeper explorations of the setting, or developing the history or even slang for different factions of people shaping the story.
Structural / Factual Edits
This category might seem a bit broad, but for my brain, it means anything that needs to be structurally moved, rearranged, or plot threads that are inconsistent and need to be fixed. Sometimes entire chapters might need to be removed or reworked. Other times, a scene might need to occur earlier or later in the story. I usually have a sub-category here to address smaller factual things I’ve messed up (like timelines or a character’s backstory.)
Okay, so now I’ve grouped all the edits into these main categories and subcategories. You might be asking HOW I do this. Some writers use post its or organized notes. I use Trello, of course. Trello = how my ADHD brain visualizes things so it’s the perfect tool for me.
Each edit item becomes a card and I then assign each card a label of the correct category. (You can see an example image below of the labels and cards I used for Storm revisions.)
Act by Act — Big Picture Structural Fixes First
BUT…I’m still not ready to start yet. While the 3 categories are helpful, they’re not enough for me to know where to start or what order to go in. Knowing where to start on a task is the biggest hurdle for me (and for a lot of ADHD folks).
To figure this out, I add Act labels. Each card gets an additional label for the act where that edit needs to happen. Sometimes cards get more than one act—especially if it’s a character arc edit—and that’s totally fine. (At least it’s fine for my brain!)
With the acts assigned, I then re-order the cards in the Trello list, starting with Act 1. Within each Act, I put the Structural / Factual edits FIRST. For the way that I work, I have to fix the structure before I do any worldbuilding or character work. (Because what if I do the others first and then I actually end up cutting that work when I rearrange things?)
With my list all in order, I start with those structural fixes. As much as my ADHD wants me to do all the small, easy stuff first, I try and break down the big-picture edits into small enough tasks that it seems less daunting. I know that if I get stuck or avoid revising for a few days, it’s because the task is too big and I need to break it down a little more before jumping back in.
So, all the big-picture rearranging comes first, no matter how much I want to avoid it, that way every scene is in the right place. Then I usually go act by act and work on the character and worldbuilding elements. Sometimes, I’ll do an entire pass that’s JUST for the character arc. Sometimes, if the character work isn’t as extensive, I’ll do it alongside the other edits.
In the end, what I revise also might depend on my mood and attention span that day. 😅 But I always use the cards in my list to keep myself focused.
One reason why I love Trello is because you can move the cards from one list to another (and who doesn’t love a shrinking to do list?!) One fun thing I’ll do is make a list labeled “Revision Round 1 Done 🎉”. Once I finish that revision item, I’ll move it to the done list and because Trello is so cool and I put that celebrate emoji in the list name, it will play a little firework confetti animation when I move a card there. Best little dopamine hit ever.
A version of this post appeared in Wolves and Wonder, my monthly newsletter that includes no-nonsense writing advice along with book updates and sci-fi inspiration. Get it in your inbox; you'll love it.