Friday, February 10, 2006

Final draft ups and downs

My First Draft in 30 Days endeavor has met a brief delay while I finish the final edits on Eyes of Crow, which are due back to my editor by noon next Friday. Her changes were minimal, and she said she loved it. So I'm basically done, right?

The Perfectionist in me just fell over laughing, banging her heels against the floor, holding her stomach, pointing at me with sadistic glee.

Looking at my cluttered home, my haphazard wardrobe, my free-spirited schedule, no one would ever guess there's one of those nasty P's in me. Certainly when it comes to external matters like housekeeping and putting clothes on my body, "whatever" is my motto.

Not so with my work, especially this novel. This draft is my last chance to make major changes, anything more than a word here or there. My last chance to explain some odd contradiction, to flesh out the details of a setting, to add that drinking song to Chapter Nineteen.

And there's this pressure, you see, the fact that this book marks my Big Debut, and if it's not Oh-My-God-The-Best-Book-Evurrrrr, my career will be over. Reviewers will snark, sales will stagnate, and my publisher will sigh and say, "Well, we gave her a chance. Next?"

I want to move on to other projects, like revising the proposal for the next book. I've rewritten this novel four or five times and have read it at least twice for every rewrite. My editor says it's good, and yet...I keep wondering, if I take one more pass, maybe I can bump it up from Good to Great, or from Great to Phenomenal, or from Phenomenal to Some Adjective They'll Invent Just for Me, Which They'll Then Retire Like a Star Football Player's Jersey Number.

When in fact, it's probably as good as it's going to get. A few tweaks here and there will round things out, and the end of the second-to-last chapter really should be cut or rewritten to maintain the poignancy of the preceding scene, but for the most part, it's done. I think.

So now, the ups and downs. Tuesday I sat down to read the novel from start to finish (they tell you to do this in one day so that you can see how it flows). For the first half of the book, I was thrilled, enchanted, charmed. This truly was the Best Book Evurrrrr.

By 3 PM, I started to get tired. Very tired. And bored. I would turn each page and think, "Oh God, not this scene!" I started to hate it. I imagined the reviews, the things they would laugh at, the things that would make my book go hurtling against walls all across the country--or worse, the things that would put readers to sleep, which is where I was headed fast.

(Oh, it couldn't have anything to do with the fact that afternoons are my least alert time, or the fact that my cat woke me up 7 or 8 times the previous night. No, it was the objective quality of the book that inspired my drowsiness.)

So after a good night's sleep and a day at work concentrating on someone else's issues, I picked up the second half of the book again, hoping to figure out what went wrong. Maybe I just needed to restore some cut material from the previous draft, or maybe I need to flesh out scenes with more descriptive language.

Turns out, all I needed was a good night's sleep. It was fine. Yeah, the prose in the second half was a bit rougher, due to being revised more often, but I fixed it.

I learned something this week (cue inspirational music): Mood doesn't matter when you're writing a first draft, but never try to edit when depressed or fatigued. Everything will look like rubbish.

Better go work on that penultimate chapter now.



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Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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