Thursday, April 26, 2018

The waiting

Last Friday night, around 11:30, I finished a manuscript and sent it off to my agent. So now I wait.

The book, from day 1 of conceptualizing until last Friday, took nearly two years to complete. That’s by far the longest any book has ever taken me to write. I changed points of view, tenses, and spent about a month this year in the hospital (all is good now, though). I wrote probably 75 pages that ended up being discarded totally. The storyline, from beginning notes until the final revisions, never changed all that much. But the writing got a lot tighter, the prose became more sparse, and the characters grew more fully realized. (At least, that’s what I think. We’ll see what my agent says.)

One thing I know for sure is this is a family of characters I’d like to go the distance with. But that’s beyond my control. I’m in no-man’s land, the purgatory mid-list authors face when they try to launch a new series, a time of waiting.

One thing I learned writing this book came in the editing process. I’m a listener by nature. I use the text-to-speech option to edit anything I write, from important emails to this blog post to novels. I carefully select the speaker’s voice, fine-tune the pace, and stop often to listen as I compose. I did this while I wrote the novel, listening to passages over and over to rework the syntax, adding fluidity and clarity, always editing by ear. And when the novel was done, I listened to the entire 85,000 words, stopping to re-hear, then reword, clarify, tighten and tweak, until, alas, I sent the book off.

I’m dyslexic, and have always been an auditory person. Audiobooks have always been a large part of my life. During my day job –– I’m an English teacher –– I utilize a listening pedagogy, picking up, on a good day, nearly all of what is said by my students, determining where we go next based on what they say and my assessment of what they grasp.

But nowhere in my life is working by ear more important than my revision process when writing a novel. How does the book sound? That’s what I need to know. As writers, we all think we know what we’ve written. However, it’s not until we hear what we’ve written that we really know what we’ve said, actually understand how our words will be experienced by a reader.

It probably took me 15 hours to carefully listen to every word of the manuscript, and those are probably the most important hours I spent on the book. They were, hopefully, worth every second.

1 comment:

Catherine Macdonald said...

I was really interested to hear about your process, John. I don’t go as far as you, but I know that when I write dialogue, I like to hear it out loud before I’m satisfied. And now that I think of it, when I revise, I hear the words in my head and I’m aware that how they sound is crucial to my editing process.