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I hate revisions.

There, I said it.

Not all the time, but when I do, I really do. I’m not talking about proofing or polishing a piece, I’m talking about re-visoning the piece, rewriting it to quite an extent in the process.

At such times I feel as if the revision is a process of slow-killing the heartbeat that created the first draft, till all that remains is the dead body of the final piece.

Of course, this is not true.

 If the final piece is not alive and cannot cry, feel, waltz, swear, laugh its way into the reader’s heart, then that piece is not worth creating. Which is why the revision process has to be vibrant, not soul-destroying.

Recently, while ‘re-visioning’, I’ve taken to using index cards. I know most people use it for plotting the first draft but I find it works equally well for tearing a piece apart and putting it together again to create an altogether different beast.

I take the story, then:
– divide it into scenes,
– put each scene on one index card,
– shuffle them around.

I keep in mind what the story lacks: impact, pace, show not tell, and accordingly change the order of the index cards, change what I’ve written on them, write new ones, and tear off a few.

This not only helps me have a good over-view of the story, it helps me imagine different scenarios without going to the trouble of writing them out. In the process, I can still flutter around, do my day-dreaming while I’m getting my revision done.

The result, I’ve found, has more flow and resonates better with the reader.

Have you ever used index cards for revisions?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Rick Daley says:

    I've never used index cards, but I outline in MS Word and move scenes around in the outline to make sure there is a good flow and proper pacing.

    My handwriting is too illegible to use index cards. It would just be a big stack of "What does that say?"

  • Hi Damyanti, am a lurker who's finally decided to comment:) I was intrigued to read about your index card method. Usually I just make notes at the end of the manuscript, or the end of the particular chapter. More often than not though, this ends up making the revision process disorganised because the 'flavour' of each scene as a whole is lost by the time I read all the detailed notes.

    Also, I lose out in terms of the option of shuffling scenes as you do, which sounds really helpful to stimulate new twists to old plots, or just to realise when something isn't quite write vis a vis a particular arc to the storyline.

    Index cards sounds like a great idea to resolve these issues. Will give it a shot. Thanks for the helpful post!


  • Damyanti says:

    @Loralie, that is what I like about it too.

    @Scott, yes, I like the convenience of index cards. And most of the time I've some sort of an idea of the direction I need to go before I start re-visioning.

    @Talei, it is worth trying out 🙂

    @Madeleine, yes, it did, and now I'm planning a lot of things around this method of revisions!

    @Elana, as writers we all have different work processes, likes and dislikes…you're lucky you write revisions, because that is where most of the writing gets done!

    @Madeline, give it a shot and see if it works out for you…all the best with your revisions!

    @Donna, I haven't written a novel yet, but I know exactly what you're talking about.

  • Donna Hole says:

    I've used a note pad to help keep track of timelines and important info during re-invisioning. I easily forget things when I've already got the story set in my mind, and reinforced on paper.

    Writing is a slow process for me.


  • I'm about to start revising, and I'm extremely excited. I haven't thought about using index cards, though! 🙂

  • Ugh, I can't abide by index cards. 😉 But I do love revising. Mostly because I know my first draft is already on it's last breath, and revising it makes it come alive. Funny how you view it differently! Good luck!

  • Madeleine says:

    Interesting idea that I had not considered. Different things work for different people. Sounds like it workd for you. :O)

  • Talei says:

    Actually, I haven't used index cards for this. It makes sense! Must try it! 😉

  • I've started using index cards lately, not just for revisions but for first drafts as well. I do like the way you can shuffle them around, rewrite them, throw them away or add new ones with not a lot of effort.

    As for revisions in general, even if I know a story isn't working, I try not to do any rewriting until I've had the new vision, the new idea that excites me about the story enough to rewrite it. I think about the story a lot but I don't change a word until I can see the thing in a new way. If that makes sense.

  • Loralie Hall says:

    I've only just started trying this with a revision that's giving me big stress. So far I like the idea. it helps me rearrange what already exists and merge in the new stuff at the same time.

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