Here is a picture of a novel edit in progress. It could also work, I’m afraid, as a cautionary tale about authorial hubris…because after I’d had six novels traditionally published, along with nearly 40 short stories, I’d truly believed that getting edits done in time, when it came to my own work, was just a matter of professionalism and determination and understanding that deadlines matter.
Anyway! The photo:
The pile of pages on the left is made up of the first 62 pages of The Girl with the Dragon Heart, which I completely retyped from my last draft. I printed out the last draft and set it beside me on my desk as I retyped it from the beginning, so that I could work from what I already had but rewrite it throughout, line by line, to amend plotlines/character arcs/emphases, etc, following my editorial letter from my insightful editor at Bloomsbury.
It took me one week to retype/rewrite those first 62 pages, after which, my wrists ached – but it was worth it!
Then…I got to page 63. And from that point onwards, I had to throw out the old manuscript entirely, at least up until p113 of that last draft. I would eventually return to the final third of that draft, but in the meantime, I had to come up with a brand-new middle of the book, from page 63-113, with all-new things happening along the way that would still naturally lead to the same page 113, eventually.
I started writing that new middle for the book on July 5th, hoping to have the whole novel-edit finished by July 21st – or by the end of August at the absolute latest.
Deadlines matter to me. They really do. Have I ever mentioned that I was an obsessive, perfectionistic student when I was younger, and I always HATED getting less than top marks? (Honestly, anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while could probably guess that for themselves.)
I wrote and wrote. I came up with new plotlines. I forced my characters down them, because I HAD to. I had to get this book done in time for my second deadline, if not my first! I kept on writing new scenes and then completely rewriting them because those first versions felt so painfully unconvincing – but the rewrites didn’t make me feel any happier about the story.
In total, I wrote 20,000 words over the next 5 weeks (which is a record for me – in the last several years, I’ve only managed 10K a month at my best). Every writing session left me feeling horrible. But I didn’t let that stop me from working even harder. I wasn’t some moody artist who would stop just because she wasn’t having fun! I was a professional! I meet my commitments!
…I really hated what I was writing.
And finally, finally, on August 9th, I admitted it: I’d gone in completely the wrong plot-direction. I hated everything new I’d written, and my heroine (whom I adore, and who did not deserve that version of her story) would never, ever have done what I was forcing her to do.
…Which meant that I was about to miss my second deadline in a row, after a career in which I’d prided myself on ALWAYS meeting editing deadlines.
I cried a lot when I figured that out. I apologized to my agent. I apologized to my editor. They were both wonderfully understanding and supportive. My editor did not tell me to cancel my contract and never darken her door again. Instead, she told me that she wanted the best book I could write, not just the fastest.
The pile of papers in the middle of that photo is the all-new middle section of the book, from p63 to p127 (it turned out a little bit longer than planned!), which I finally – FINALLY finished drafting yesterday, September 27th, nearly three months after I first started writing that middle section, and over two months after I’d originally promised to turn in the completed book.
The pile on the right is the final 101 pages of the older manuscript, which I still need to retype and rewrite. (I hope it goes as quickly this time as the retyping and rewriting of the first 62 pages went, all those months ago. Knock on wood!)
That middle section, of course, is all still a rough first draft, which will need to be polished before I can turn in the edited novel.
This has been the most challenging edit of my entire life – made even more complicated by international travel and a series of family health issues across the last few months – and there were SO many points (really up until I finished typing that final scene!) when I wasn’t sure that I could really do it. Yesterday afternoon, when I wrote the final words of my last all-new scene, I had to fight off tears of sheer relief. I kept feeling them burning behind my eyes for hours afterwards. Last night I drank a glass of sparkling prosecco with my dinner to celebrate the achievement – and I still couldn’t quite believe it!
Today I’m getting down to work on the much more usual kind of rewrite for the rest of the book. These last nearly-three months have been brutally stressful, intensely challenging…and they’ve resulted in such a better story for my heroine and for my readers.
I am so grateful to my editor for pushing me to write the best book that I could.
But I am so sorry that you guys are going to have to wait a bit longer than planned to read it because of how long it’s taken me to do it. Bloomsbury was originally planning to publish the two books a year apart, but now, of course, because I’ve taken so long with my edits, we’ll have to wait a bit longer for it to be published on both sides of the Atlantic. I still don’t know the exact publication dates, but I do know they’ll be in the second half of 2018 rather than the first half.
I sincerely apologize for the delay to everyone who’s been so fantastically supportive of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. I know you guys have been expecting to read The Girl with a Dragon Heart next spring. I really wish I’d been able to do this faster.
But I can absolutely, 100% promise that you’ll get a better book in the end because of that delay. I hope that you’ll find it worth the wait!
And now I’m getting back to work – because that third pile of paper is waiting for me. :)