This week I scrubbed our kitchen floor. I decluttered and cleaned out the pantry. I raked fallen leaves and pulled up the spent bean and zucchini plants in the vegetable garden.
Why did I do this extra-level tidying?
- I was doing tasks that simply needed to be done.
- Company was coming for dinner.
- I was resisting revising a manuscript that I’d thought was finished.
The answer is (3).
On Monday I read through a full manuscript of a novel for young readers that I finished some months ago (okay, more than a year ago). My astute and honest editor had looked it over and made many more notes and comments than I thought she’d make. I avoided studying these for many weeks because I knew she was telling me something I needed, but didn’t want, to know.
I’d gone over the manuscript myself many times; I’d entered it in contests and even received a third-place award, based on the first chapters; I’ve been puffed up with my achievement in finishing a novel, thinking it was ready to submit to agents and actively visualizing bidding wars, a check for an advance on royalties, and sparkling reviews.
But after rereading the editor’s notes, I had to admit to myself that this novel needs work. I don’t mean fixing punctuation, deleting words here and there, or doing global searches to change names or spellings or track down overuse of “in fact,” etc. I need to cut back-story and details and add more action. I’ll have to slice some scenes (no doubt murdering a few darlings), write some new ones, and maybe even create a new character or two.
This week I cleaned cupboards and garden beds because I was anxious (scared) about what I’d discover once I started revising. I adore my protagonist (a quirky eleven-year-old boy), and I like the setting (the folk festival circuit in the Pacific Northwest in 1985), but is my story flawed at its premise? Is the manuscript worth revising, despite all the work I’ve done on it so far? Am I capable of writing a novel that would hold a young reader’s interest?
On Wednesday, having resisted sitting down to face the revisions all day, I set out for a walk on the clear blue October afternoon, scuffing through the patchwork drifts of fallen leaves.
Solvitur ambulando! While rambling along I suddenly had an idea for how to expand the story and add a point-of-view that would energize the action. I made a list of tasks; I’d start by rewriting biographies for all the main characters, to get to know them better. I’d add conflicts and problems to each scene. I’d encourage myself by noting what parts of the original manuscript do work well. I’d trust that just by doing I’ll receive gifts from the literary gods to help me make a better book.
And now I’m actively visualizing a child reading my book with a flashlight under the bedcovers, such a motivating image.
Stay tuned for revision updates!