For the most part, when it comes to different parts of the writing process, I prefer revising to drafting. I’m the type of writer who enjoys shaping and polishing and digging deeper over getting raw words onto the page. But one thing that I don’t love about revising is how difficult it can be to organize my process and to track my progress.
In the software development/tech world, there is a popular methodology for managing projects called Agile, and within the giant world of Agile, there’s a framework called Scrum. Agile and Scrum were developed as frameworks for collaborative projects, but a lot of the things they teach can be helpful even when working solo. I won’t go into all ins and outs of Agile and Scrum here, because that would probably be a book-length post, but I’ll just talk about how certain key concepts can be adapted for the revision process.
Tasks: The first step of any Scrum project is to break down the project into a set of discrete issues, or tasks. These are concrete action items that can be completed in a estimable amount of time. So for instance, I might get a note from my agent or CP that says “Character x’s motivation needs to be more clear.” Before beginning my project, I would take that note and break it into actual tasks — for instance “Add a conversation between character x and character y to this scene” and “Move this scene to chapter 10” etc. etc. — whatever actual, concrete changes I think I need to make to address the note.
Backlog: The backlog is, very simply, the complete, prioritized list of tasks that must be completed for the project to be considered done. For revising a book, you might order the tasks chronologically, or you might order them from “bigger picture” to more minute changes.
Sprint: This will be a little confusing, because I’m sure a lot of us think of “writing sprints” as short, 15-30 minute chunks of focused writing time. But in the context of Scrum, a Sprint is a one to two week period of time where you are working on a set number of issues or tasks.
Sprint planning: At the beginning of each sprint is a planning session, where you’ll decide what the goal of the sprint is and choose some number of tasks to work on. Since every sprint has a goal in mind, you’ll want to choose tasks that are interrelated and build toward that common goal. Maybe you do one sprint on a particular character’s development, and choose all the tasks that involve that. Maybe your sprint is focused on a particular story sequence or set of chapters.
Once you’ve chosen the sprint goal and tasks you’ll work on for that sprint, estimate about how long you think each task will take. You don’t necessarily need to estimate in hours–if you use the pomodoro technique, you might instead estimate how many pomodoro sessions a task will take, or you might just estimate each task on a scale from “super time-consuming” to “very quick, easy fix.”
During my sprint planning, I also like to map out exactly when I’ll be working, based on my day job hours and what my evenings/weekends look like. That way, I have a very clear picture of how many tasks I think I’ll be able to knock out, and adjust my sprint accordingly.
Daily Scrum: A daily scrum is a brief period of time set aside every day of your sprint to check in with how you are progressing on your tasks, what roadblocks you may be encountering, and what you need to do to stay on track. Generally, this should be before you start that day’s work and shouldn’t last longer than 5-10 minutes. My daily scrum usually consists of identifying which tasks in particular I’m aiming to finish by the end of the work session, as well as check in with how I’m feeling about the work. Am I overwhelmed? Excited to get started? Tired (yes, always). The daily scrum also offers an opportunity to revisit your overall sprint goal and revise the tasks if needed.
Retrospective: At the end of every sprint, I do a retrospective (or a “retro” if you want to get cute), which is exactly what it sounds like — a time to reflect on how your week went. A retrospective consists of 3 main questions:
- What went well? Use this time to celebrate successes — a particularly beautiful paragraph, a chapter you finished, even just a particularly tough evening that you were able to push through and get work done. Really, anything you felt particularly proud of!
- What went wrong? Maybe a new plot hole opened up, a scene you just didn’t quite get right, or maybe your focus was just off.
- What can be done differently to improve the next sprint? Maybe you need to go to a cafe to work during the day or use an internet blocker, maybe you need to sit down and figure out a new way to address a plot hole before you go on. Create any new tasks that come out of the retrospective and add them to your backlog.
I find Scrum to be a very useful tool for planning projects, because baked into it is time to reflect, recalibrate, and change your plan if need be. I’ve never had a round of revisions go completely smoothly, and Scrum offers me a reliable framework for addressing challenges and roadblocks as they come up. I’m not the type of person who works well with a lot of imposed structure, because I find that once I have a plan it can be difficult for me to actually follow through. Scrum gives me a nice middle-ground, where I can hold myself accountable to my goals, but also give myself space to be honest about how I’m doing, and adjust my expectations.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by revisions and unsure of how you can possibly tackle all of it at once, try using Scrum:
- Break each revision note into actionable tasks
- Put those tasks into a prioritized backlog
- Plan which tasks you’re going to tackle in your first sprint
- Hold daily Scrums to check in with yourself about how you’re progressing
- At the end of each sprint, do a retrospective to reflect on what went well, what went wrong, and how you can improve
If you’re interested in reading more about Scrum and Agile methodology, there are plenty of resources freely available resources. I recommend https://www.scrum.org/resources/what-is-scrum and http://www.agilenutshell.com/ to start.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve used this method, or something like it to revise! Or if you have some other amazing method to help you stay organized and on target.