Working Backwards

macbook pro 13 inch

I’m not a person who rereads books. There are a few I will revisit, but in general, when I finish a book, I never pick it up again. I like to move on to the next thing. Unfortunately, that isn’t really possible when I’m writing a book. Rereading is a integral part of editing and revision, such that by the time I’m done writing a book, I’ve read it dozens of times. It’s tiresome and confusing. After a while, it’s difficult to judge the quality of a book you’ve read a hundred times as you rewrite it. Nothing is new, nothing is surprising, and I can’t help wondering if it there will be anything delightful left in the thing for readers. This is a critical part in the writing process when you really have to rely on beta readers and your editor to talk you out of burning the whole thing and moving to Nepal. I’m lucky to have people in my life that fill those roles so perfectly and that they are so different from each other.

Michele, who reads everything I write that is even slightly more complicated than a grocery list, is very patient. She says things like “what are you trying to do with this scene” or “I need to know how she’s feeling” or “you’re not setting the scene for me, I need to see it.” And sometimes, on very good days, she says “I love this.”

Jennifer, my editor, takes the carrot-stick-carrot approach. She reads the whole book and tells me she likes it. Then she sends me page after page of edits in red, red, red ink. Then she tells me it’s the best thing she’s read all month and that she loves working with me. I’m fairly certain she says that to all her clients, but it feels nice when she says it anyway.

Kristin, who has actually partnered with me on stories in the past, has a different approach, one that is truly hers and that I haven’t seen mentioned in any of the writing/editing books that I’ve read. Kristin simply writes snake-men into any scene she finds lacking. For example, if I write a scene that takes place during dinner and Kristin finds it doesn’t really move the story forward, she will simply rewrite the scene so that the diners are attacked by snake-men. If she’s feeling lazy, she just adds a note to the text that simply says “needs more snake-men.” This is a unique approach to developmental editing. Sometimes it results in yelling.

Nonetheless, all three of them are an important part of me finishing a book, which I’m trying to do now, which is what brings me back to rereading. I’m doing a lot of that. I did a lot of it before I left for Maine, and while I was in Maine, and now that I’m back from Maine. So, I’ve decided for the buff and polish phase, before I send it out to Michele and Kristin and Jennifer for their opinions, I will be rewriting it backwards. I’m starting with the last chapter and working back to chapter one until it’s all shiny like a new penny.

It seems like a good plan and a way to look at the book differently. Let’s hope it works.

5 thoughts on “Working Backwards

  1. Nice post. The ‘snake men’ thing is a bit like, if a scene is slow, have someone kick down the door and enter the room. I use square brackets and caps to add notes to myself, just so I can keep writing. So if something’s missing in a scene, I don’t sit and ponder I just add [NEED TO FIND A CLUE HERE] or something of that ilk. I got that method from watching an Iain Rankin video diary – a year of writing a novel. Very interesting and comforting to see he has no clue a lot of the time.

    • I love Ian Rankin. I think I’ve read most of the Rebus books. I will say he gives a different view of Edinburgh than the average tour guide. It was a lot of fun to walk through the city and think, “oh yeah, that’s where that guy got murdered.” Where did you see his video diary? I’d like to watch that.

      • Hi Marie – I just read this post, not realising I’d read it before. Maybe I was abducted by aliens right after reading, as I still don’t remember hearing about snake men before.
        Anyway, the Ian Rankin thing was on BBC. It was brilliant – so good to see a writer at work and that being famous and successful doesn’t mean you have a magic method. He still stares at the wall and gets doubts at the mid-point. I hope you can track it down.

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