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!