Editing a novel on the go: First round of revisions takes place riverside

“Wocketa, wocketa, wocketa, wocketa …”

Step into my office. Pardon the washing machine racket. Once you get used to it, it’s kind of a cozy sound. The coin-op dryers keep the place toasty; it gets cold this time of year in LA (Lower Alabama), where I have traveled to attend to the needs of my sailboat. She is on the dry, propped high on metal stands in the dusty boatyard. Life aboard is a constant series of ups and downs; a ladder is the only means to get on and off. I share this 32-by-12 foot space with my husband, aka Dayus Interruptus, who whenever I am working is struck by the impulse to read aloud from his Facebook page, the hometown newspaper or the latest boat brokerage listing. This is not done out of malice, but it isn’t conducive to keeping any train of thought on the tracks.

Revisions on the run require flexibility. So I seek solace in the laundry room, which in any event seems a highly appropriate place to clean up a book.

I knew that when I printed my 84,210 words complete novel “More Than You Think You Know” I was wasting ink out of sheer sentiment. After a few days of jubilation and percolation I forged into the disillusioning work necessary to ensure that the manuscript is as professional, polished and presentable as possible.

I referred to a great many sources offering wisdom on the process, including this nugget cut out and pasted into my 2007-2008 gratitude journal:

On Revision: Having finished a first draft, start over. Open a brand new document on your computer and, referring to your draft only occasionally, retype your whole story or novel, rethinking every moment, every sentence. Duplicate your draft only when it’s worth duplicating, when you can’t possibly improve it. – Excerpted from “By Cunning and Craft,” copyright 2007, the quote was used with permission of Writer’s Digest Books, an imprint of F+W Publications, Inc.

Start over? That’s harsh. No way, dude! The spellcheck is done. Twice. And I’ll run it again after the first round of revisions. Sure, spellcheck doesn’t begin to catch everything. But it catches enough to make it a necessary tool in the revision arsenal.

Speaking of spellcheck, the process becomes particularly tedious while sorting through dialogue dialect. My three major characters are Midwestern, so there are gonnas and gottas to “ignore,” as well as Southern y’alls from the belles and gents they meet along the way. The “More Than You Think You Know” spellchecking went faster than it did while editing a fantasy novel that features talkative lisping foxes. After that tedium the lisping ‘ith’ implied in the published version.

While I rejected the suggestion to re-type my novel, I took to heart other clipped-and-saved advice reserved well in advance of first-draft completion. O Magazine in 2007 included wonderful Q&A blurbs “Inside the Writer’s Mind” featuring “six terrific novelists.” In the same issue Walter Mosley’s “This Year You Write Your Novel,” smacked me on the backside and goaded me into action.

It’s heartening to hear that top-selling authors wrestle with revisions. My friend Sharlyn Harley tells me that award-winning novelist and short story writer Jan Burke (http://www.janburke.com/other.php) has shared her process with fellow members of their Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. Burke has referred to her own first drafts as “puke green drek,” notes Shar.

As I look out the Laundromat window, I can see the river where Robin, Trish and Hailey cruised on the motor yacht Blackdog. I can see the slip where they docked here, the patch of grass favored by the adopted mutt KC. Across from my boat rests the 44-foot modified steel workboat The Bear that from stem to stern served as a model for my fictional vessel.

Even though my workspace will be relocated time and again over the next few months, the inconvenience of revising a novel in cramped, noisy, odd and floating places is offset by the privilege of re-visiting the setting for “More Than You Think You Know.” On the umpteenth trip up and down the boatyard ladder it doesn’t feel that way, but truly, I’m about as blessed as a novelist can get.

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4 thoughts on “Editing a novel on the go: First round of revisions takes place riverside

  1. You go girl! I’m excited to hear about your writing. I haven’t written the first word of “my novel” yet. Keep at it. You know how to eat an elephant — one bite at a time. Or, as Annie LaMott says, Bird By Bird.

    • Lisa, I’ll be sure that you get a copy as soon as “Loop Dee Doo” is ready to share 🙂 The cruising life we dive into every winter is definitely slowing the revision process down, but as I noted in the blog I am focusing on flexibility.

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