Eye of the Editor

A binder and notebook

As part of the warmup for NaNoWriMo, I’ve been going back over my efforts from previous years. I say “efforts,” but several years of non-winning NaNoWriMos have all coalesced into a single novel that I have discussed at great length in previous posts.

So what I’m actually trying to express is that I’ve been reviewing the novel that was born of those NaNoWriMos with an eye toward what I’m going to revise when I get a chance.

My first step was printing the whole beast of a novel out, hole-punching it, and stuffing it in a binder. This is because I have a damnable time reading stuff on a computer screen if I really want to dedicate significant amounts of processing time to it. My brain has been so thoroughly programmed by low-consequence, mass-produced Internet material that it has difficulty associating things on a fluorescent screen with stuff worthy of profound consideration.

That’s why I have to print things out to edit them.

And since I’ve printed the whole shebang out, it means that my scribbled thoughts on re-reading the novel takes place by hand in a notebook that I keep with the bound manuscript. The content of this notebook is divided into two sections: “Characters” and “Things That Need To Happen.”

“Characters” is pretty straightforward but is desperately necessary for this manuscript. I have a horrible habit of inventing whole human beings for one-shot purposes just to get me past The Most Recent Hurdle while I’m writing first drafts. This means that, during rewrites, I have to gather all these characters and figure out which ones I can combine or discard. This section of my notes has already been exceedingly helpful.

“Things That Need To Happen” is also dreadfully necessary, but for very different reasons. The first sixty percent or so of this novel will have to be rewritten altogether, because character relationships have changed drastically since the story was started back in, like, 2011. So “Things That Need To Happen” records events from the original draft that are absolutely necessary for the story to proceed the way it needs to. Despite the extremely neonatal nature of the novel, it already has some points akin to Stations of the Canon that need to be included in the future rewrite, otherwise everything from the 61% point forward falls apart.

I’m not quite halfway through the manuscript, at this juncture. I have no idea whether this two-pronged method I’ve described is actually going to pay off, or if the copious notes I’ve scribbled in my Yoobi notebook will just languish until I decide to torch the whole thing and take some other tack. My fondest hope is that I’ll be able to take the notes that I’ve written and the material I’ve already got, load it all into some service like Novlr, and fix everything up in such a way that it all makes some semblance of coherent sense from start to finish.

I suppose that, at that point, I’ll have a whole new horror to face: the inescapable necessity of peer review. Which is a fancy way of saying that I’m going to hand out copies to all my trusted writerly friends and find out what they think.

That, however, is a bridge that I will cross when I come to it. AND, if you have any advice for how to handle the first major round of revisions to a novel draft, leave it in the comments! God only knows I could use some.