I’m beginning to understand how Donna Tartt could spend ten years writing a novel. I used to think it would be impossible to maintain interest in the same book over that long a time. I used to think you could rewrite and polish only so many times before it was perfect. But that was before I tried to write a novel, and before I hired an editor to help.
A few weeks ago I sent my latest draft to my efficient and perceptive editor, a draft that I had polished through the technique of reading it aloud, recording it, and making changes as I listened to the playback.
I was really pleased with it. I thought reading aloud had helped to make the dialogue flow better and cleaned up some awkward sentence structure. I had noticed that when reading I stumbled over inaccurate punctuation and fuzzy thinking. Any text that I wasn’t fully committed to didn’t read smoothly. I had discovered a way to get to the truth of the book.
I was also weaning myself from antidepressant medication and was sure I was seeing the effects of clarified thinking and emotional access in my writing. I was right about that, especially in the passages dealing with relationships, but I was missing the bigger picture. In the process of stripping down some characters trying to get to the truth I wanted to convey, I lost some objectivity and allowed reality to overwhelm the fictional narrative resulting in a loss of pace, tension, and structure.
In other words, in finding some truth about myself, I managed to lose my reader. My editor had no trouble pinpointing the problems: “I think what’s missing in this chapter is an emotional hook that will compel the reader to care…As a reader, I feel unsure of what the book is about and therefore unsure of what I should care about, and why.”
I was surprised and disappointed.
When we talked she was quick to apologize for being so blunt, then added: “but isn’t that what you’re paying me for?”
She’s right, her comments and suggestions are enormously helpful, and I’ve gone back to work with enthusiasm, understanding the task is to fictionalize the narrative while retaining the emotional truth.
Not a problem, this is only year three of this book.
©2015 Ron Scherl