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Revising a novel: Two steps forward, one step into the Pit of Humiliation

Occasionally someone will ask me how the revisions are going on the novel, and may even politely wonder when I might let someone peek at it.  Well, as you can tell from the graph to the right, I finally made it through all 45 chapters.  Does that mean the first revised draft is finished?

Well, no, not necessarily.  In addition to the chapter-by-chapter hunt for filters and telling, there were other whole-manuscript type tasks required as well as several parts that needed a little extra detail, if not a little less.

For instance, Thursday night, I spent half an hour scrutinizing Every. Single. Last. Use. of the word "very" in the text.  "Very" is a very innocuous little word.  It’s also largely unnecessary.  People say it, sure, which makes it useful in dialog, but in most cases, it’s just not very helpful in describing something.

What’s that?  An example?  Oh, fine….

Compare

Puddin huffed at his reader, very irritated at being made to perform like a circus monkey.

with

Puddin huffed, aggravated at his reader for being made to perform like a circus monkey.

See?  "Very irritated" there is kind of weak and lifeless.  "Aggravated" is sharper, much more specific.  It also conveys a certain tone.

The lesson is this: better word choice beats the dancer tights off unnecessary adverbs every day of the week, and once on February 29th every four years.

The good news is that at this point, I’ve crossed all the tasks off the Editing list.  So, yes, Virginia, the first revised draft is done.

Now, having completed Revision Pass number 1 of however-many-it-takes, I am comfortable saying that with the possible exception of doing long division at the chalkboard* or being taught to parallel park by a driving instructor that resembles the "Where’s The Beef" grandma, editing a book—especially editing draft 0—might be the most humbling experience available to a modern human.

When you first pound out those two magic words, "The End", you get a giddy little high, which is often enhanced by the consumption of celebratory tequila.  But the next day, when Jose’s left you low, dry, and feeling like your cat’s litter box, you’ll sit down to edit your new masterpiece, which is going to be simply smoothing out the rough edges that might separate John Q. Public’s sad first novel from yours, which is destined to be The Great American Novel.

And then, about 30 minutes into your revisions, you’ll also wonder if, in fact, you weren’t largely high on a combination whippets, white out, and NyQuil when you first wrote the thing.

The long and short of it is that throughout this first pass of editing, I came across plenty of spots in the manuscript written such that I’d feel compelled to (choose two):

    1. Recoil in editorial horror
    2. Reach for the Ole Grand-Dad
    3. Give the manuscript the stink eye
    4. Swear off writing forever
    5. Reach for a match
    6. Weep softly to myself and pray for sparkly vampires to come save me

The good part is that today’s version, Draft 1, is leaps and bounds better than the original version, if I do say so myself.  Which, of course, is the point of editing, although it will feel an awful lot like the process is actually a superlative method of torture.

Is my novel perfect yet?  By all means, no.  I’m thrilled with parts of it.  Other parts?  Meh.  I’m sure it needs even more revision before it’s time to talk submissions for publication.  But I know it’s a stronger work than it was before, which is a step in the right direction.

The lesson in abject humiliation was just a convenient bonus.

Pud’n


*Chalkboard: (noun) A smooth hard panel, usually green or black, for writing on with chalk, commonly found in schools during the Triassic period.

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3 comments on “Revising a novel: Two steps forward, one step into the Pit of Humiliation

  1. Typo in # 6, bro. Sorry, sorry…been editing myself and I have multiple shotguns full of shells for this kind of thing at my disposal. Can’t read without proofing and editing right now…*shakes head sorrowfully*

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    • Heheheheh. No need to apologize. I typically end up leaving a typo or three in each post. I like to pretend that rather than just being an idiot, I’m actually just keeping myeditor (aka, my wife-who hadn’t had a chance yet to read this post) on her toes.

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  2. Love the chalkboard reference. Still miss those dudes because you could actually wash them. White boards, no matter how hard you erase and clean, end up a mess. Cheaper, yeah. Better, doubt it except for defense of the computer from dust. Best – large smartboard “magic markers” etc. Comparative cost – yeah, right. Education is going back to the wealthy. No textbooks just laptops everywhere. 🙂

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