That is what we are aiming for – a novel so smooth that the reader has no idea of the effort that’s gone into it.
Shhh, I’m about to let you in on one of the biggest secrets in the writing business. It’s something authors don’t often talk about…
The amount of times we go over a manuscript.
For me, the first draft is written in a heady mix of euphoria at this amazing idea I’ve had, and fear that I’ve actually forgotten how to write a novel and will never make it to the end. After months of torture, plotting problems, and literally dreaming about the story, it’s done. Hurray! Now it’s just a question of going over it and neatening it up. Right?
Albert Einstein (or Benjamin Franklin, there seems to be a debate over this) once said that the definition of madness was to keep on doing the same thing and hoping for a different outcome. In some ways, that’s what we authors do over and over and over. First we write the first draft, a rough and ready affair, but at least the plot is down and we know it mostly works. Once done, I go straight back up to the top, looking solely at the character threads on their own, to make sure they make sense and are strong enough. I add in more sights, sounds, smells, character tics. I make sure scenes are fully fleshed out, and that others are pared down.
Once done, I go straight back to the top and weave the strands together again, making sure it comes together as a whole. I add in chapters (I know, this is weird. Most authors have the chapters from the beginning. Not me). I rewrite endings of chapters slightly, to tease the reader.
Once done, I go straight to the top and go through every sentence making sure I haven’t over-used a word or phrase throughout the book. I try to make the sentences tight but flowing. Some are there for action, short and punchy; some long and lyrical to add atmosphere.
Once done, I go straight to the top and do a spell check of the document.
Once done, I go..oh, no, hang on, it’s finished! Thank goodness for that! Well, until I get structural changes from my editor, that is.
Having finished structural edits, the manuscript gets sent to my editor. And returned to me in the form of line edits. This week has been spent on line edits, which I have now finished – hurray!
Now I’m waiting for copy edits…
It may be repetitious, but going over and over and over (and over) the novel is necessary. Each pass improves it. Think of a sculpture faced with a lump of wood. First they might use a chisel to hew the rough shape, then a finer tool to pick out details, and then a coarse sandpaper to smooth the surface, before choosing a finer-grained sandpaper to go over it again, then an even finer sandpaper, until eventually the wood is glass-smooth to touch. That is what we are aiming for as writers – a novel so smooth that the reader has no idea of the effort that’s gone into it.