Fact: It is taking me as long if not longer to revise my forthcoming novel, House Divided, than it did to write the first draft.
Here’s why. The focus in writing a first draft is the story. When I finish a draft and pull the cork out of my favorite Cabernet, I’m very happy, but I don’t have something I would show even my most faithful reader. That first draft is full of grammatical, spelling, syntax and other errors, including typos, bad word choices, repetition, dull exposition, and disjointed dialogue. Yet, in the midst of all that, exists a story yearning to be free.
During the first round of revisions I’m still focused on the story. This is when I clean up the plot, looking for holes, inconsistencies, and contradictions. I usually go through the story at least twice but sometimes it takes multiple revisions until the story feels solid.
At that point I begin to focus on the writing and it’s about this time I ask my spouse Jude to read a draft. She tells me whether she likes the story––which of course she does––and finds the worst of my typos, grammatical, and spelling errors.
Next comes reader number two. She provides a more in depth review catching errors that Jude and I have missed. After reader number two sends what she’s found, I go through the manuscript one more time, preparing it for the reader number three.
Reader number three is another author. Her comments are on a higher level, dealing with character, plot and even sentence structure. She may find a typo or two, but that’s not her primary interest.
During each round I benefit from time away from the manuscript. Distance allows me to see things I missed in earlier readings. At this stage my focus is almost entirely on the writing. I shorten exposition, clean up dialogue, remove retellings of what the reader already knows, and try to inject a little style into the writing.
At this point I print out the entire manuscript and go through it with red pen in hand, often reading out loud to check the cadence, voice, and flow of the language.
Just before release, there’s a final proof-reading stage. Here I rely on a professional who is paid because proof-reading is a skill. The proofreader not only finds the obvious typos, but also knows I meant device instead of devise––the kind of mistake that often escapes other readers because their brain corrects what their eyes see.
In the end no story is perfect––especially a novel of 88,000 words which is the length of House Divided. My goal is a story that you the reader doesn’t want to put down and when you reach the end you are satisfied that I’ve not wasted your time, but rather elevated your experience. Perhaps I given you a character who sticks with you, a plot you marvel at, or even a topic to think more deeply about.
In the case of House Divided, there’s work to be done. I’ve set a release date early in 2015. The pressure is on. You won’t find me wasting too many hours in the coming weeks. It’s crunch time and there’s a story yearning to be free.