word craft


Slowly, Step by Step

turtleI am cur­rent­ly at work on a new novel—doesn’t mat­ter what it is. Though essen­tial­ly done, it has been sit­ting on the editor’s desk for a rel­a­tive­ly long time, while I wait for final revi­sion notes. I don’t know why it has tak­en so long, and I sup­pose it doesn’t mat­ter. The point is the book is in a kind of Limbo.

But not quite. From time to time, to keep my men­tal con­nec­tion to the text, I yank the whole man­u­script onto my screen. Then I choose a num­ber, any num­ber. It might be my wife’s birth­day; say the thir­ti­eth. It might be the page num­ber of the book I had been read­ing the night before—page 191. I go to that page of my man­u­script. The point, is my choice is random.

Then I review that page, and lo and behold, I see changes to make. A bet­ter word. A com­ma in or out. A small cut. Dif­fer­ent phras­ing. Whatever….

I choose anoth­er num­ber, anoth­er page.

Now and again I’m appalled by what I dis­cov­er: some­thing total­ly out of char­ac­ter; con­fus­ing syn­tax; a plot contradiction.

Oth­er times I’m delight­ed by what I find: a much bet­ter way for the char­ac­ter to express her­self. A way to turn a dull line into a fun­ny one.

Why is this hap­pen­ing? Because when I work on the text as a whole, I’m some­times not see­ing the parts.

Do it by bits and parts and I’m not, if you will, rush­ing along with the flow. I’m focused on every line. A good thing.

Of course, the sum total of small parts makes up the whole, and the book is much bet­ter for this kind of atten­tion. That said, hav­ing done this before—for the same reasons—I have yet to have an edi­tor come back to me and say, “I noticed that on page 67, line 6, you made a change for the bet­ter.” The lit­tle alter­ations become absorbed in the whole. Is the book bet­ter for these kinds of changes? Absolutely.

Why don’t I do this for every book?

Most often I don’t have the time. Con­sid­er the par­tic­u­lar book I men­tioned in the begin­ning here. When that edi­tor does get back to me with notes—I bet it will happen—I’ll be giv­en a short dead­line. “Please get this back to me in three weeks.” (Or less!)

So I’m glad for the delay.

But sometimes—for a vari­ety of reasons—a book is rushed from start to fin­ish. It is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a poor­er work, but can well be.

I once wrote a book in such a quick fash­ion. Every­one worked hard on it. Too hard. Too quick­ly. Then, when the pub­lished book came into my hands, I looked it over. Nice cov­er. Blurbs read well. Print­ing for­mat fine. I opened the book and read the first para­graph. That instant, I real­ized I had left out a line which would have made a big dif­fer­ence to the book.

One line!

But there it was in my hands, the pub­lished book.

Today’s moral: Slow can get you to qual­i­ty faster.

5 thoughts on “Slowly, Step by Step”

  1. I love this “ran­dom page” idea, Avi. I’m in much the same sit­u­a­tion, with a book sit­ting on the edi­tor’s desk await­ing atten­tion. I’m going to start ran­dom pag­ing this after­noon! Thanks.

    • Thanks for the awe­some, orig­i­nal post! I’m not a pub­lished author, but do have a WIP nov­el… and I spon­ta­neous­ly use a sim­i­lar edit­ing approach. I don’t pick a num­ber; I just open my com­put­er or print­out to any page, then nib­ble. It’s some­times less stress­ful than start­ing my ses­sion with a dif­fi­cult spot which I *should* tack­le first. Instead, I putz around till I’m warmed up and emboldened. 

      There are many use­ful revi­sion tech­niques, and it’s good to vary them.… and some­times most prac­ti­cal to just grab a page and dig in!

  2. You write the most won­der­ful posts! I always receive them as pre­cious gifts. Not many are so gen­er­ous as you. So, thank you, Avi! My book is still with me as I can nev­er fin­ish with the rewrites. I need to let it go. But I always see how it can be made bet­ter. There is “slow­ly.” And then there is “too slow­ly.” Again, many Thanks!

  3. What an inno­v­a­tive way to get unstuck. Keeps the child alive, too. Turn­ing any­thing into a game reminds us to keep play­ing. <3


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