Thursday, August 29, 2019

Is It Safe?

Any humorous/interesting/exciting tales to share from your summer?

From Jim

It’s been a busy summer, quite different from recent years. Since 2014, I’ve had a book launch every May or June, except this year. My forthcoming Ellie Stone mystery, TURN TO STONE, was pushed from June 2019 to January 2020, meaning for the first time in five years I have no new book to promote. Instead, I had a book to edit. And revise. Over and over. Again and again. Which made for a summer more relaxing than usual, if somewhat tedious. There was no travel, no putting on my game face for book signings or readings. No dreading a bookstore event with no attendees. Or worse, with only one. I’d rather no one show up than just one person. At least that way, there are no witnesses to your shame.

But I didn’t have any of that to worry about this year. So I revised my 110,000-word novel nine times. Full revisions. I’m sure my editors are quite annoyed with all the changes I’ve made. But there’s nothing more important in making a novel than revision. At least for my novels. And this one more than any other. I’ve written before that TURN TO STONE is the first book I’ve written without an outline. And I paid the price. When you plot out your book before writing it, you front load a lot of the work. There’s a lot of thinking and staring into space as you decide what’s going to happen in the story, which themes you intend to explore, and what the perfect resolution should be. But when you write by the seat of your pants without a roadmap, much of that same work is pushed to the end of the first draft. The holy mess of a first draft.

And that was the case for me. TURN TO STONE ended up being the hardest book Ive ever written, partly—though not entirely—because I did not outline it in advance. But, I must admit, it’s turned out to be the best book I’ve ever written. In my opinion, anyway. Maybe that’s because I had the freedom to follow Ellie and the other characters wherever they took me. Or maybe it’s because I’m maturing as a writer. You really can’t help but improve with repetition, right? So I have a new appreciation for pantsers. I’ll never say again that plotting is a better strategy than pantsing. But that said, all of the struggles—the false starts, the re-writes, the re-imagining of characters and storylines—all of that left me feeling exhausted from a creative standpoint. I don’t know if I could do it again. In a way, the holy mess of the first draft, followed by its nine revisions in three months, has made me dread starting another book. I know I will, but it’s with great trepidation that I commit to another marathon. As I always say, I love having written. I don’t love writing.

So I spent my summer revising and editing. I’m now on the very last pass. Should be done tomorrow. I call it the robot read. And it’s the most painstaking, tiring edit of them all. But I recommend it to all writers. Here’s how it works: Once the manuscript has been revised by your editor and all the plot holes and continuity issues have been resolved; and once the line editor has gone through the book word by word; you clear the decks for five or six full days (eight hours each) of reading your masterpiece with your finger tapping each word. I averaged about ten pages an hour doing this. And, to reap the maximum benefit, you must read it in a robotic monotone. Why? Because this is the only method I’ve found to catch 99.44% of errors.

Especially the missing words. Those pesky little “the”s and “a”s and “of”s that evade our eagle-eyes. I’ll let you in on a secret. After the eight revisions and the line edit of TURN TO STONE, I found ELEVEN missing words in the first 200 pages! Eleven words that were missed by me, my beta readers, and my editors.

I like to think we all missed them because the story and the writing were just so damn good that our eyes raced over the text and filled in the blanks unconsciously, all in attempts to see what happens next. (Just kidding, of course.) But I found so many errors with the robot read. Repeated words, compound nouns that should have been one word instead of two, missing hyphens, mysterious carriage returns, italics problems, and even flat-out incorrect word choices. The robot method is like a root canal procedure: painful but, in the end, a salubrious decision. 

Is it safe?

Yes, that’s how I spent my summer vacation. If it hadn’t been for several enjoyable books I read in between the revisions, I would have gone crazy. I wrote about those books just two weeks ago in this space. Take a look here:

1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

You have my sympathy. Now, imagine doing all of that with no book contract....