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Slowly, Step by Step

turtleI am currently at work on a new novel—doesn’t matter what it is. Though essentially done, it has been sitting on the editor’s desk for a relatively long time, while I wait for final revision notes. I don’t know why it has taken so long, and I suppose it doesn’t matter. The point is the book is in a kind of Limbo.

But not quite. From time to time, to keep my mental connection to the text, I yank the whole manuscript onto my screen. Then I choose a number, any number. It might be my wife’s birthday; say the thirtieth. It might be the page number of the book I had been reading the night before—page 191. I go to that page of my manuscript. The point, is my choice is random.

Then I review that page, and lo and behold, I see changes to make. A better word. A comma in or out. A small cut. Different phrasing. Whatever….

I choose another number, another page.

Now and again I’m appalled by what I discover: something totally out of character; confusing syntax; a plot contradiction.

Other times I’m delighted by what I find: a much better way for the character to express herself. A way to turn a dull line into a funny one.

Why is this happening? Because when I work on the text as a whole, I’m sometimes not seeing the parts.

Do it by bits and parts and I’m not, if you will, rushing along with the flow. I’m focused on every line. A good thing.

Of course, the sum total of small parts makes up the whole, and the book is much better for this kind of attention. That said, having done this before—for the same reasons—I have yet to have an editor come back to me and say, “I noticed that on page 67, line 6, you made a change for the better.” The little alterations become absorbed in the whole. Is the book better for these kinds of changes? Absolutely.

Why don’t I do this for every book?

Most often I don’t have the time. Consider the particular book I mentioned in the beginning here. When that editor does get back to me with notes—I bet it will happen—I’ll be given a short deadline. “Please get this back to me in three weeks.” (Or less!)

So I’m glad for the delay.

But sometimes—for a variety of reasons—a book is rushed from start to finish. It is not necessarily a poorer work, but can well be.

I once wrote a book in such a quick fashion. Everyone worked hard on it. Too hard. Too quickly. Then, when the published book came into my hands, I looked it over. Nice cover. Blurbs read well. Printing format fine. I opened the book and read the first paragraph. That instant, I realized I had left out a line which would have made a big difference to the book.

One line!

But there it was in my hands, the published book.

Today’s moral: Slow can get you to quality faster.

5 thoughts on “Slowly, Step by Step”

  1. I love this “random page” idea, Avi. I’m in much the same situation, with a book sitting on the editor’s desk awaiting attention. I’m going to start random paging this afternoon! Thanks.

    • Thanks for the awesome, original post! I’m not a published author, but do have a WIP novel… and I spontaneously use a similar editing approach. I don’t pick a number; I just open my computer or printout to any page, then nibble. It’s sometimes less stressful than starting my session with a difficult spot which I *should* tackle first. Instead, I putz around till I’m warmed up and emboldened.

      There are many useful revision techniques, and it’s good to vary them…. and sometimes most practical to just grab a page and dig in!

  2. You write the most wonderful posts! I always receive them as precious gifts. Not many are so generous as you. So, thank you, Avi! My book is still with me as I can never finish with the rewrites. I need to let it go. But I always see how it can be made better. There is “slowly.” And then there is “too slowly.” Again, many Thanks!

  3. Love it. I will definitely try it. I can see how shocking it might be too. Ha

  4. What an innovative way to get unstuck. Keeps the child alive, too. Turning anything into a game reminds us to keep playing. <3

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