Up to my neck: the revision process

I’ve spent the past few weeks going through the new book (formerly 100 Breakfasts now officially titled THE SECRET OF EVERYTHING).  Ed and agents came back with suggestions and I had some thing I knew I wanted to smooth and fix, too.  

I wish I could say I had a process I use, over and over again, to rewrite a book, but I don’t.  Different books require different fixes–tweaking a character’s arc in one book, smoothing a bumpy or unrealistic plot in another; adding or taking away elements, shifting a time line.  Uncovering a secret.

This is the point when I remember all the stages of the book, from the first glimmerings of the idea, through the development and writing and drafting, now to the deep polish and smoothing.  It’s a lot of work, writing a book! I always end up with a big box of materials, research and backstory and draft upon draft upon draft. I wish I was a less messy writer, but I do require many drafts, often up to 20 or even 30 , though not 30 whole drafts.  Some scenes emerge whole and clean.  Some are elusive and take many rewrites to show themselves.  Some are raw and need toning down.  Whatever.  It’s a lot of words. A lot of attention. 

At this point, what surprises me is how often changing three sentences can shift the meaning of an entire thread.  It’s a lot of tweaking. Starting on the first page and combing through carefully, checking for tangles, for dropped details or threads, for repetition and banality and the Words of the Book, which are the words I have overused to the point of absurdity in a particular manuscript.  (The words this time? Crisp, pelt, and pirate. Make of that what you will.)

I’m always hoping to find a grace note, though happily, I found one early for SECRET, which I hope you will enjoy as much as I do.  In THE LOST RECIPE FOR EVERYTHING, the grace note is when Julian smells his mother’s perfume in the air–which I can tell you without giving anything away because you have to read the whole book to understand the significance.  A movie example I love is in Titanic, when the old woman finally died, but finds herself on the beautiful, significant staircase of the great ship, dancing with her beloved.  It’s the thing that doesn’t have to be there, but offers so much more emotional pleasure for the reader.  In commercial fiction, it is often a symbol of life returning to order.  In literary fiction, it can embody the theme.

Sometimes, the muses are kind and drop something in my lap, as they did with this book, when I wrote the last scene, completely exhausted and ready to send my child out into the world so I could sleep. (It is part of my process that I don’t write the last scene of a book until I have completely written and rewritten and rewritten the entire book, so I often write it the day before mailing.)  The grace note simply arrived, sweet and real and true.

Because there is so much food in this book, as with Lost Recipe, I had a lot of last minute food testing to do. How, for example to poach an egg.  Have you ever done this?  It’s hard!  I used almost a dozen eggs to figure it out–but that happily gave me a new scene that brings a character alive.  I had to try Hollandaise, too, but that was pretty easy in comparison.  (And yummy, though by the time I finished the testing, I was tested out and the dogs lucked out.)

I’ve been up working on the last couple of scenes this morning and will take the dogs for a walk, make a couple of more passes, then email it off again into the world.  It will be coming your way at the turn of the new year. 

Wish me luck in finishing up today!

 

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11 thoughts on “Up to my neck: the revision process

  1. Kristen

    Luck! Much luck.

    This will be one book I’ll try to be patient to wait for. Another keeper, a few more recipes to entice the boy, or myself, into trying and knowing after finishing it, there will be a darn now I have to wait again for a new one feeling. I love an author that does that to me. 😉

    Enjoy your walk.

  2. Angela Giles Klocke

    Personally, I love reading this. I wish you much luck, and I thank you for sharing your thoughts and some of your process. As I dig myself back into writing, it’s good to see so many different writers doing different things — and let’s me know it’s OK that I don’t get it all right in the first revision. :)

  3. I love reading about your process too. I think I get stuck in my own perfectionism insanity and forget about the amount of necessary work that must go into a book.

  4. You don’t know how much comfort I take in the fact that you do so many drafts, Barbara, since it sometimes seems as if I do a bazillion.
    We should start a Queen of Multiple Drafts Club!

  5. Amanda Reynolds-Smith

    Hello Barbara… how fabulous, especially the gifts that arrive just at the right time… here is a little gaelic wish “Go n’éirí leat” (meaning may your luck be rising!)… Amanda xx

  6. Thank God, Robin! Thanks for telling me that. I seem to be surrounded by people who do clean first or second drafts. Not me!

    Thanks for the good thoughts, everybody. I got my new child off to school again. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but there are still edits ahead to pick up dropped stitches.

  7. My problem with my writing is I expect it to be perfect from the get go and when it isn’t I become disappointed to the point of putting it aside. And then the bug hits me again and off I go trying to find that perfection in the first word of the first draft. I am trying to do better but it isn’t easy that is why I love it when Barbara lets us in on her thought process and how she goes about the difficult but so much fun world of writing.

  8. I have a question about a piece of your process that I had never heard from anyone before: If you wait to write the last scene, does that ever alter any earlier threads that you may have already tweaked? Or do you need to fix the threads first so that you know exactly how to end it?

  9. Good question, Jenny. The reason I wait is so that I can write an holistic end scene. Once in a great long while I get something that means tweaking an earlier scene, but that’s rare.

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