This summer we are re-running my most-read blogs from the past year, in case you didn’t have an opportunity to read them the first time around. I’ve rewritten each one of these, so even if you’ve read them before, you may wish to read them again! Here is the eighth of those articles:
I am currently at work on a new novel—doesn’t matter what it is. Though essentially done, it has been sitting on my 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. 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. It might be expiration date on a can of beans. 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 utterly 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 here in the beginning. When that editor does get back to me with notes—I bet it will happen—I’ll be given a quick 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. Or as John Heywood suggested in his 1546 book of proverbs, “Haste makes waste.”
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.
But there it was in my hands, the published book.
Today’s moral: Slow can get you to quality faster.