When we write a book, we go word by word or page by page. If we think of the story as a whole, it becomes too overwhelming. Daily and weekly writing goals help us reach the finish line.
Revisions are a different story. The words are written. Now we must hone them into a fine-tuned instrument. It can take me an entire week to polish one chapter. First, I begin by addressing critique group corrections. This may involve moving passages around to tighten the focus, deleting sections, or refining a conversation. Dialogue tags have to be added to get rid of talking head syndrome, and my sleuth’s internal thoughts need to reflect her reactions.
In addition to the above, sentence structure must be tightened. Issues that are irrelevant are removed and repetitions pared down. Inconsistencies become more noticeable and easier to correct. The story begins to take shape in a more precise manner.
What this round of line editing doesn’t do is look at the book as a continuous story. Because I forget what’s happened in preceding chapters, the second round is where I’ll catch the bigger bloopers, or so I hope. This is a read-through from start to finish. Whoops, characters A and B already had this conversation in their last scene together. Or, this information has already been revealed about suspect C. Paragraphs will have to be modified accordingly. Then another round of reading is in order for overall smoothness.
Revision is a slow process but one that cannot be rushed. Just like a gemstone, every facet must be examined and polished. And once we’re done to our satisfaction, we send our work out to editors and beta readers. Then the process starts all over again.
Writing a book is like going to the doctor. You enter the office with nervous anticipation. You leave with a sense of relief. Writing a novel is similar. You begin the story with the same sense of heightened anticipation. When the first draft is done, you feel immensely relieved.
A doctor visit engenders several questions. Will he find something unexpected? Will the procedure hurt? Do I have to disrobe? What kind of follow-up will I need? And why is that poor fish swimming all alone in the waiting room’s aquarium?
We’re always afraid the doctor might find a disease we didn’t know we had. This question also applies to writing your book. Will you discover some unexpected plot twists as your characters take over the story? Will the results turn out the way you’d planned? New ideas may pop into your head or be inspired by things you see and hear around you. These may take your story in a whole new direction. For writers, the unexpected reveal is a pleasurable event. The more your story stews in the subconscious, the more chances of this happening. Embrace the unexpected and see where it leads you.
Will it Hurt?
Writing a novel can be painful. Not because it may dredge up memories from your past, but because it’s not easy to face the blank page every day. Will you be able to reach your word count? What happens if you write yourself into a corner and get stuck? Will this book be as good as the last one? We struggle with these demons and others as we sit at the computer each day. Nonetheless, we keep plugging away until the first draft is complete. Similar to a medical procedure, if it’s something that needs to be done, you just have to do it. Remember BICHOK – Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. That’s the key to writing a novel.
Do I Have to Disrobe?
Your novel, once published, exposes your vulnerabilities to the reader. This book baby is naked to the world. Reviews will be mixed, hopefully with the good outweighing the bad. It’s inevitable that you expose yourself as a writer when you publish your work. You invite feedback every time you put a story out there. Grow a thick skin and get over it.
What about Follow-Up?
Like the next doctor visit, fans will be anticipating your next book. You need to get started on it soon after you finish this one, while allowing yourself time to decompress, research, and plot the sequel. Marketing is essential at this stage, too. You can’t put your book out there and forget about it. If you slack off in your promotional efforts, book sales will lag, too.
The Lone Fish
Writing is a lonely business. We sit in our home office in front of the computer all day. When we’re not writing, we are working on promotion and marketing. Friends and family don’t understand the hours of dedication we need to get the job done. It’s a full-time career with no time off. The pressure is always on to produce more or to do more social media.
We have to remind ourselves that we’re not the only fish in the sea, and we need our families to support us. In return, we have to take the time to be with them because that’s what really matters in life. Writing a book is an achievement, but you want someone with whom to share it. In terms of understanding what you do, your critique partners and writing friends can empathize. Don’t feel you’re in the turbulent waters all alone.
Saturday, June 4, 2:00 – 3:30 pm, “Self-Publishing Made Simple” Writing Workshop via Zoom with Nancy J. Cohen sponsored by Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University. Pre-Register at https://bit.ly/3ytN1yn
Do you have a novel that doesn’t fit genre guidelines or a personal project you want to self-publish? Or perhaps you want to reissue backlist titles or become a hybrid author? In this workshop, award-winning author Nancy J. Cohen will discuss setting up your own imprint, buying and assigning ISBNs, preparing your manuscript, ebook and print distributors, and marketing tips.