I recently turned in my first pass pages – which, ironically, were the last chance to make changes for the final printing of MY BEST EVERYTHING. This was the first time my story looked bookish. It was all typed up in a pretty font with chapter headings and swirly-marked breaks.
And also terrifying.
These are the pages that the ARC will be printed from. These are the pages I worked so hard to get exactly right. These are the pages the copyeditor and my editor and I all scoured for mistakes and inaccuracies. These are the pages I still made more changes on!
Confession time: This was by far the hardest and most emotionally draining part of the process for me.
I really expected to be more sure by this point. To feel like it’s perfect. But all I really know is: there is no such thing as perfect. The final version will be a little more perfect than the ARC one, but I’m sure there are still things I could have changed on different day.
After all the revision work and all the polishing, all the checking and rechecking, the up close and particular scrutinizing; I simply felt nothing but critical when it came to this story. I wanted to change everything. To make it something else. I just didn’t know how to love it anymore.
Fortunately, I have really smart friends who helped me get my head back in the right place and to remember that time back when I was proud of and delighted with my story.
And so, in case there are other writers fighting the crazies at this stage of the process, here are my tips for charging onward.
[These are assuming you have a hard copy of the pages. Even if your editor works electronically I highly suggest printing it out. For some reason reading on paper instead of the screen – and reading it in a different font – makes it easier to see things that have been missed so far. I had two copies to work with – one to turn in and one to keep.]
- Make a list of all the thing YOU love about this story. Remind yourself of that white hot spark that started it all. Remember why you stuck with it. Forget list, make it a love letter – with hearts and kisses.
- Even if it makes you feel vain, go back and find all those lovely things people have said about your story. Gather comments from critique members, the gushing from your agent, the first paragraph of your first editorial letter – back before she/he started helping you fix it. Find the sweetest and most wonderful compliments ever and read them again and again.
- Imagine your perfect reader.
STAGE ONE READING
- Gather tools: pencil, post-it strips, a note-pad.
- Read slowly and out loud. Make notes. Flag spots that make you pause or cringe. (Don’t make actual changes yet.)
- Take breaks at the end of each chapter to reflect and think. Fatigue is your enemy.
STAGE TWO READING
- Now read it more quickly. Read it like you are that ideal reader.
- If anything stops you at this stage, flag it and then move on.
- I always think breaks are helpful – and readers take breaks too – so take them. But when you’re reading, try to read freely and for story.
TIME TO MAKE THE CHANGES
- Compare the two read-throughs. See if the same things caught your attention both times. See if you still agree with that first read-through. (I think I had almost three times as many pages flagged my first time through.)
- Go through again, looking only at the flagged pages. Make decisions.
- Start recording changes. Because I am perpetually filled with self-doubt; at this stage I made the changes only on my copy.
- Double check the changes.
- Put them on the final (to be turned in) copy.
CELEBRATE AND/OR COLLAPSE
And then, if you are like me, your editor will come back with questions on the changes because you STILL managed to miss things. Or to muck up new things.
**One of the best things that happened during this process was I received a peek at my cover. It makes me so very happy ~ it is perfect for my story. Lulu would love it. I can’t wait to share it!**
WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK