(This was originally published on Curious Fictions on October 16, 2018 -- I am trying to rescue posts before the site disappears!)
Behold, my good readers, for this is an CAUTIONARY POSTE OF DOOM!
My Twitter followers may have seen a few incoherent tweets about this, but I had a (wholly self-imposed) novel deadline a little while ago — September 30. Due to procrastination, sickness, and a slew of avoidable and semi-avoidable disasters, including deleting about 30,000 words and completely re-doing the outline on August 31, I finished the first draft — and I do mean the first draft — on September 23. It was still riddled with plot holes, unfilled INSERTNAMEOFPERSONHERE brackets, half-finished descriptions ('WRITE SOMETHING ABOUT THE THING HERE'), and the same person got killed twice in slightly different fashions (more on him later).
That left me with a grand total of, if I was being generous, seven days to finish everything needed to present my agent with a finished draft.
"But Premee!" I hear you yelping. "That's unreasonable! Were your brain parasites acting up? Why didn't you ask for an extension?"
Because shut up, that's why. (Anyway, I wanted to see if it was possible, and I did, almost till the last minute, consider asking for an extension of a couple of weeks. My agent, who's quite a reasonable person, would have had no problem with it, so I don't know what was up there, honestly.)
Anyway! I ended up doing what's become my usual novel revision procedure, just at a tremendously accelerated rate. I should add that this is a fairly recent development (the last four, maybe five books?) because (cough) I used to not finish my novels, and so never reached this stage.
I ended up making three passes in six days:
FIRST PASS: Going through the whole manuscript with the intention of cutting out some of the wordiness (which I have a problem with; can you tell?). I'm a habitual overwriter, and find it much easier to cut than to add. On the way, I fixed typos and grammatical errors, filled in the hundred or so WHATSTHISGUYSNAMEAGAIN or WHATSTHISSTREETCALLED brackets (by the end, I was typing so fast that I didn't even go to my character concordance to keep people's names straight), and chapterized it as well. Breaking it into the chapter headings let me navigate more quickly for...
SECOND PASS: Wherein I returned to the beginning and started doing an actual content read, without changing anything (unless it could be done quickly in a sentence or two). (Sidenote that the speed was weirdly helpful here; I could see the big picture of the 132,000 word manuscript and not forget what was happening at the start.)
- Were characters doing what they could be reasonably expected to do? Were things happening that logically caused other things to happen?
- Did anything happen that could not reasonably be explained by the logic of the world, including the rules of the world's magic? We are not at home, generally, to Mr. Deus Ex Machina.
- Did anything happen that could not reasonably be explained by the actions of the characters? Did it need an explanation, or to be cut out entirely?
- Were any of the chapters inexplicably long? Weirdly short?
- Could anything be moved to another chapter to fix this?
- Did I miss any WHICHGODWASTHIS or WHATDIDICALLTHAT brackets?
- Were people repeating themselves? Or, was the same thing explained twice by two different people?
- ....Wasn't that guy dead a minute ago?
- Is anyone too thinly characterized to reasonably explain how they're acting in any given scenes? Do they need a little bit of their own back story? Does someone need to namedrop or gossip about them somewhere else?
- Is anything out of order? Are there scenes that should happen earlier for later scenes to make more sense?
- Are there any hints that need to be dropped similarly, so that a later reveal doesn't shock people in the novel, or readers?
- Can anything be implied rather than explicitly laid out?
- Do any of the chapter endings or beginnings need to be moved or tweaked? I didn't particularly feel the need to end everything on a cliffhanger, but some chapters called out for it, and fell short. (I am also very new to chapterizing things; most of my previous books were one solid block of text. Sigh.)
- Can anything else be cut? (This novel suffered a lot from that, particularly in the back half, of which 60,000 words were written in about three weeks. Things were almost on a minute-by-minute basis at a certain point; no one needs that much detail. A lot of time compression and event condensation happened here.)
For everything in the second pass, I didn't change it right there; I flagged it with a comment, and came back to it for the:
THIRD PASS: In which everything from the second pass that I felt I had time for was fixed and rearranged. This took the most time by far — probably four days of 8-9 hours each, working on it for an hour at lunchtime at work, and then when I got home at the end of the day. (For people asking "WTF, how" please be aware that I was diagnosed with ADHD this summer, which has gone unmedicated for various boring pharmaceutical interaction reasons, but I've actively practiced flipping into hyperfocus over the past two or three years and I'm pretty quick at it now. The periods of hyperfocus, though, are about 60 seconds long. So you'll have to picture those 36-ish hours as 50-60 seconds of editing, followed by 2-5 seconds on Twitter or doing something else, and then back. I know, I know. Brains are terrible.) Anyway, in the third pass, the novel grew by about 5,000 words, mostly plugging obvious plot holes and moving people logically where they needed to be instead of having them appear there as if by magic (EVEN IN A WORLD WITH MAGIC) or following some suspicion or hunch or something.
And then I booted it out the door on September 29th! I'm proud of the way it turned out; I think it's a fun, swashbuckling adventure with some real emotion behind it, and I look forward to seeing what changes my agent would like.
But as for the whole 'write half a book in a month and then edit it in six days' — I am never, ever, ever, ever, ever doing that again.