Writing a draft isn’t easy, but it is easily measurable. Every day, your word count increases. You probably know how many total words your manuscript needs to have in order to meet your genre conventions. By analyzing your typical daily pace, you can even plan how much time you need to get to the finish line of your draft. Revision, on the other hand, is a bit more nebulous.
There are words going in and words coming out, and word count is no longer a reliable way to measure a day’s work. Fixing “character motivation” isn’t easily quantifiable when that might mean a rewritten chapter or two, an added sentence here and there, and a whole new climax scene. The revision process isn’t predictable and doesn’t lend itself to a clear-cut daily checklist. This can be frustrating for those of us who need validation that we accomplished something for the day.
But there are some ways to measure your progress to keep your work moving forward. Here are five tricks that work for me:
1. Set Time Aside for Revision
This might be the easiest tactic to implement. Simply schedule a set amount of time to work on your revision every day. Tracking word count can be easy—you stay in the chair until you hit your mark. Revision isn’t as concrete, but time is.
Whether it’s an hour, thirty minutes, or even just ten minutes of your lunch break, set your timer and go. Using time as a measurement is an especially helpful way to track your revision if you are skipping around your manuscript to fix big picture issues (like pacing, character arc, timeline) that can be difficult to quantify.
Setting a timer and staying focused for whatever that amount of time is will keep your hands in your manuscript, your revision fresh, and your progress consistent.
2. Use Your Outline
When tackling a big edit, I like to create an outline of my manuscript as it stands. After analyzing the outline for a full character arc, strong story trajectory, and high stakes, I fix what needs fixing in the outline first.
Creating an outline for the ideal finished story allows me to make macro changes in a smaller, more manageable container. I then import this revised outline into a spreadsheet, allowing me to plan for and track fixes in the larger manuscript.
This strategy allows me to more effectively assign time for my edits and measure my progress as I revise the larger manuscript. For me, there is nothing like crossing out a line of a spreadsheet when a big task is done!
3. Accountability Partner
Illnesses, kids, emergencies, appointments, aging parents, pandemics, or any number of things can sidetrack even the best laid revision plans and we all deserve to give ourselves grace in those life moments. Sometimes, however, we drag our feet on revision work, finding any excuse (time to fold the laundry!) to not focus on it because it is hard and unwieldy.
In those moments, a deadline can be helpful. I like to add a little accountability to my self-made deadlines so there is a consequence if I don’t meet it. Pick a critique partner, spouse, or friend, and promise you’ll send them a specific number of pages by a specific date (specifics are important). Tell them that they will need to follow-up with you if you haven’t sent it by the agreed upon time. These people may be your beta readers who will also offer feedback, but they don’t have to be to be effective. Just having someone else waiting for your work can be a powerful motivator.
4. Set Aside a Set Number of Pages for Revision
I don’t recommend tracking page count for big picture revisions, but when you get to the polishing stage of revising—line level focused, filter word fix type edits—this can be a very effective way to track progress.
Some writers commit to a certain number of pages a day. To make this more fun (and when you are truly at the polish stage and NOT the big structural fix stage), randomize your page numbers in a chart, then edit page-by-page in that random order.
This strategy is great for the line edit phase because you are no longer reading for continuity or arc or character. Hopping around the story, however, will make the pages fresher to you because your mind isn’t filling in those story blanks like it does when you read in order. It’s a great way to spot filter words or other crutches you may use in your writing. Plus, you can cross off each page number in your chart when completed.
5. Gold Stars
Create a reward system. Did you make progress on your revision today? Add a sticker to your calendar and watch it fill up, maybe treat yourself with a specialty coffee if you complete a full week’s worth of edits.
Rewards don’t have to be big to motivate. In fact, sometimes the smallest rewards work the best. Those cheap face masks at Target and a bath after I’ve completed a certain number of chapters is often enough to get me working. Need an extra boost? Loop in an accountability and time element here, too. Schedule lunch with a friend, but you can only go if you get in your hour of morning edits first.
While the measuring stick for revision isn’t as obvious as drafting, there are still plenty of ways to monitor your progress so you can stay on track for finishing your book. The magic happens in revision, so don’t avoid it simply because it’s harder to quantify. Try a few systems and see what works best for you and finish that revision.
Monica Cox is a writer and book coach living in North Carolina with her husband, two teenage boys, and a cranky but adorable cat. A former public and media relations executive, she now guides writers through their writing and revision process. Her goal is to give writers the encouragement, feedback, and tools they need to keep writing, finish their manuscripts, and strengthen their craft along the way.
Connect with Monica at monicacox.net and on Instagram and Twitter.