SAVE EVERY MAJOR DRAFT!
I'm not talking about backing up your work, which is clearly a must. I mean save every draft before you embark upon a major revision. If you use critique partners, save the drafts you sent to each reader before you start ripping the book apart and incorporating their suggestions. Clearly label that draft as Version_Bob_Read, or whatever their name might be. You never know when you might want to fetch deleted descriptions, scenes, and dialogue.
To demonstrate, here are all the changes In the Shadow of Blackbirds has endured ever since I started writing the novel back in the fall of 2009.
1. I sent the book to my first critique partner, Kim.
Manuscript length: ~91,600 words
Major problem(s) with the book: The mystery part of the plot wasn't working.
Saved file as: version_Kim_read
2. I sent the revised book to my next partners, Francesca and Ara.
Manuscript length: ~92,100 words
Major problem(s) with the book: The mystery now worked, but my ghost scenes weren't intense enough; I received warnings about possibly needing to delete three long flashback chapters.
Saved file as: version_Francesca/Ara_read
3. I sent the newly revised book to my agent, Barbara Poelle.
Manuscript length: ~92,600 words
Major problem(s) with the book: Huge chunk of flashback scenes needed to be cut; character relationships needed strengthening; eventually we decided to delete a major character who acted as the third member of a love triangle that no longer exists in the plot.
Saved file as: version_barbara_read
4. Barbara submitted the extremely revised book to publishers. Maggie Lehrman of Amulet Books/Abrams bought the novel in the fall of 2011.
Manuscript length: ~59,800 words [Notice how short the book got after all the deletions.]
Major problem(s) with the book: Character relationships needed to be further strengthened; world building needed work; some aspects that had been deleted in previous incarnations of the book needed to be brought back via short flashbacks, letters, etc.
5. I returned the edited book to my editor May 8, 2012.
Manuscript length: ~85,800 words
Major problem(s) with the book: I'm still waiting on my next stage of revisions; fingers crossed the remaining problems are now only minor.
Moral of this story: I'm so relieved I saved all those former drafts so I could retrieve conversations, descriptions, etc., that I wanted to weave back into the story. The overuse of flashbacks and my extraneous character still needed to go, but I frequently fetched phrases and dialogue I had previously chopped.
Sometimes we writers need to cut passages and phrases we absolutely love from our manuscripts, but those moments of writing glory shouldn't disappear forever. You never know when you might need to borrow your own words for a later stage of revisions or even a future writing project, so please heed my advice:
SAVE EVERY MAJOR DRAFT!Cat Winters was born and raised just a short drive down the freeway from Disneyland, which probably explains her obsession with haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, a young adult WWI-era ghost tale, is coming Spring 2013 from Amulet Books. She lives outside of Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids.
Cat's haunts: CatWinters.com, Twitter, and Facebook. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is now on Goodreads.