I have a better understanding of how to write books than how to revise them

revisingI’ve written first drafts of lots of books, but I’ve only ever brought two books from first draft to submittable form. And in both cases, it was a bit of a haphazard process. With This Beautiful Fever, I did real editing. In fact, I deleted the whole first third of the book and rewrote it. But with Enter Title Here, I did surprisingly little. Most of what I did was cutting stuff. In the end, I cut about a third of the book. Which is hard, of course, but it’s also a very compartmentalized process. I’d wake up and go through it page by page, asking whether this scene, paragraph, sentence, or word really needed to stay.

Now I’m trying to revise my sociopathic mom book, and it’s proving a bit less tractable. This book is a big one, for one thing. It’s 110,000 words and it spans three years and lots of different events. The book is a very complex machine.

Right now, the thing I am wrestling with is the character’s emotional and intellectual development. It’s astonishing how you can write an entire book and yet not be entirely clear about the character’s journey or whether they change. In this case, there’s just something about the mother’s journey that’s not quite sharp enough. She never quite comes to terms with her own behavior. In the end, it’s not even clear if she understands it.

I think I’ve figured out a solution (I’m going to weave on extra thread into the narrative). But it’s a bit exhausting to think about going through the whole manuscript and patting everything into place.

And then after that there’s everything else: the cutting of extraneous words, the revising of awkward sentences, the checks for internal consistency. It’s all such a big production. And I think it’s going to take at least a month.

In the case of at least three novels, I’ve gotten to this point–the place where I’d need to spend serious time polishing the novel–and decided that the underlying product wasn’t strong enough to warrant the effort. In this case, I don’t think that’ll happen…but that still leaves me doing all this work. Sigh.

Comments (



  1. Morlock Publishing (@MorlockP)

    I want to quote a sentence here and say “OMG yes”…but basically every single sentence maps my own experience (and I’m not even done revising yet).

    So, anyway: this is spot on to my own experience. And, I guess, if I had to pick ONE sentence, it would be about how one can write an entire novel and still not quite have a handle on how it is that the character grows or learns. My first and second drafts both had that flaw, and only in retrospect did I see how crazy that was.

    I’ve got to assume (please, God), that when writing one’s third/ fourth/ fifth novel that a lot of these hard won lessons pay back in the pre-draft-one work or in the draft-one work. Because if not, I’m about ready to eat a bullet. 🙂