I guess I really am revising, now, because I'm about to enter what I think of as the jigsaw puzzle phase--or perhaps the better comparison would be to Magnetic Poetry.
Increasingly convinced that what I've got in this chapter isn't adding up to what it needs to add up to, I spent a couple of hours yesterday attempting to outline the thing as it currently stands. Seven legal-pad pages later, I had a much more concrete sense of what was and wasn't working: all those places where I double back and pointlessly duplicate material; where I've thrown in stuff that isn't meaningfully related to the material surrounding it; and where important connections that should be drawn, aren't. Doing this was helpful, and I've already made some tentative decisions for restructuring and reorganization.
But the only way I've ever really been able to restructure a piece of writing is to do it physically: I print out a hard copy, spread all the pages out on the floor in front of me, and start cutting them up. I tape together each section that seems to be a functional and essential unit--often just a paragraph or two, sometimes three or four pages--and I hack off the top and bottom margins to save space. Then I start moving things around: what would it be like for this section to come here? Or. . . maybe over there?
In the normal course of my writing I tend to have a certain amount of tunnel vision, worrying about the relationship of each paragraph to the next (and indeed of each sentence to the next), and although I obviously try to keep the shape of the whole in view, after several drafts it's hard for me to escape whatever structure I've arrived at. If I'm marching through texts linearly, say, or have organized them by their authors or their chronology--and if there's a good rationale for doing so--it's almost impossible to conceptualize some other, perhaps more thematic or topical organization. And to the extent that it's possible, it's scary: some other organization might mean that I'd lose an essential way of understanding and presenting my material.
But in spreading a hard copy out before me, I'm not committing to anything just yet; I'm playing around, freeing up my possibilities. After doing this for a day or two and arriving at something that looks promising, I start crossing out my old transitions and set-up material and writing in new ones by hand on separate sheets of paper. They don't have to be very good; they just have to provide enough connective tissue to make me believe that this organization has some meaningful and seemingly organic logic.
And honestly, it's rather fun. In my apartment in Grad School City I had a long empty wall in my kitchen, near my desk, and when working on seminar papers I'd tape the pieces up on the wall, organized beneath brightly-colored headers. I'd sit on the edge of my sink, swinging my feet back and forth and staring at the wall. Sometimes I'd jump down to scrawl in several lines by hand, other times I'd go back to my computer and type up a few new pages to swap in. I could keep this up for a week or more.
These days, I usually only go the jigsaw route once, probably because I do it much later in the process. When I'm done moving things around on the floor, I carefully number the pieces, return to my computer, and cut and paste and enter all the other relevant changes into the electronic file. Then I immediately print out a copy, and go back to revising and cleaning it up in slow, laborious longhand.