Marked Up

Miss me?

Since the summer I’ve only posted here sporadically. Most of my writing energy has gone to revising my novel.

When my agent returned my marked-up manuscript in July, he wasn’t just fixing grammar or flagging inconsistencies. Mark questioned my characters’ underlying motivations and asked me to do the same. He called me on passages I’d jotted down as place holders and then forgotten to return to (how could he tell?). He suggested I reconsider my ending, which has an unconventional format that made it hard to follow. And he pointed out the biggest problem with my parallel-plots structure: the parallels needed to be clearer.

It was all a bit overwhelming. (And by a bit, I mean a lot.) There were days when I was sure I couldn’t do it. But after three months, I think maybe I have. Here’s how.

Once I’d finished freaking out, I took Mark’s suggestion to spend a week jotting down notes. I reverted to the comforting, old-school technology I used forty years ago, when I started writing: a ballpoint pen and a spiral notebook.

One week and dozens of scribbled pages later, I opened the electronic version of my manuscript. My first task was to go through the mark-ups one by one, addressing as many as I could on the spot. I clarified ambiguous passages, inserted notes about character issues, cut over-writing, made specialized vocabulary more accessible, and rewrote the last chapter, keeping my non-conventional format, but making it easier to follow.

To keep track of what I was doing, when I opened the manuscript each morning I saved a new version with that day’s date in the title. The result: 57 versions of the complete, marked-up manuscript, and no doubt whatsoever about which is most current. Plus, none of my changes are irreversible — I can always refer to an earlier version.

To keep moving forward, when a problem seemed particularly perplexing, I flagged the issue and worked on something else. There was always something else to work on, and when I returned to the difficult passages, they usually turned out to be not nearly as insurmountable as they’d seemed the first (or second or third) time through.

After I’d addressed Mark’s comments, I started going through the book character by character, reading only those scenes that included that person, and reading as if the character in question was the center of my story. Because each character is the center of his or her own story. I traced narrative arcs, tweaked pacing and fixed inconsistencies and logistical mistakes. Since six characters needed fixing, I went through the book this way six times.

Along the way, I tightened my writing, cutting the fat. I found a lot of fat. I needed to add some new scenes, and had worried this would make the book too long. By the time I’d finished deleting an adverb here, a sentence there, the final word count is slightly shorter than when I started.

More to the point, thanks to Mark’s honest, keen-eyed observations and the hard work they inspired, the book is better. The writing is clearer, the scenes more focused, the action better paced, the various interwoven plots that comprise my ambitious structure work together more smoothly, and the characters are better realized.

I am absolutely certain of this. At least, pretty certain. Hopeful, anyway. I’ll have a better idea when I actually read the thing with a fresh perspective. Did I say fresh? That won’t be easy, since I’ve been immersed in this project for 10-plus years. But I’m doing what I can by taking a week off.

I’ve already filled the week with more plans than I can possibly accomplish: Get my hair cut. Get the car serviced. Get a flu shot. Get back into my garden. Get to some of the books I’ve been putting off reading (first up: The White Tiger). Get back into my blog.

When I get back to my manuscript, I’ll find out what more I need to do before I send it to my agent. Then he’ll let me know what else he thinks it needs. And when he and I are finally ready to submit it to publishers, if everything works out as we hope it will, a whole new round of revisions will begin.

I’ll keep you posted.

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12 Responses to “Marked Up”

  1. Sue Schein Says:

    What word processing software are you using, Ruth? I like the way changes are tracked…

  2. Ruth Horowitz Says:

    Word Office 2003. You can choose whether to see the original version, the final, the original with changes or the final with changes. The one pictured is the final with changes. During the last week or two of revisions I could only work with the final version showing. All those different colors and sidebars got too confusing.

  3. Lynn Rubinstein Says:

    Interesting to hear of your process. Good luck with this project, Ruth.

  4. Ruth Horowitz Says:

    Thanks, Lynn!

  5. linda epstein Says:

    You are such an inspiration to me. I can’t wait to buy your book in a bookstore and perhaps have you sign it!

  6. Ruth Horowitz Says:

    From your mouth to God’s ear, Linda.

  7. linda epstein Says:

    As a fellow Reconstructionist, Ruth, you know we both have direct access!

  8. Sue Schein Says:

    Thx Ruth. I didn’t think to look here for your response. (Sound of hand thwacking forehead)

    This inspired me to investigate the Options tab in one of the Track Changes pop-ups. Just bought Office 2008 for Macs, with en eye to the free upgrqade later in the month, and had never really explored all the newest bells and whistles in tracking changes. Like, I LOVE the review panel.

    In the nittiest and grittiest way, you are an inspiration. You techno-wizard you.

  9. Sue Schein Says:

    Got the blog ginned now to notify me when there’s a comment.

  10. Ruth Horowitz Says:

    You’re welcome, Sue. Glad you found your bells (and whistles).

  11. Ruth Horowitz Says:

    Good job, Sue! Getting the blog to notify you = techno-wizardry.

  12. Aimee Swift Says:

    Always great to hear about process, Ruth! Thanks for sharing. It’s amazing how many steps go into the creation of a novel. It’s terrifying. Yet at the same time, when I see you and others out there, bushwhacking ahead of me, making it through, getting closer and closer to the final prize… now that is inspiring!
    Keep up the good work, Aimee

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