Pencil, Meet Eraser

“I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” — Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, 1966

 

When I received the production calendar for In Another Life last December I noted something called “2nd Pages”, scheduled for October. Caught up in the overwhelming excitement of IHAZBOOKCONTRACT I never thought to ask what it meant. Figured it would all come clear when the far-in-the-distance month of October rolled around.

 

Yeah, well. Roll around it surely did.

 

See, I thought I was finished with edits and proofreading. The hours spent combing through the ARC in June, curled in a wingback in a loft in a house in Ireland, the ticking of a mantle clock, rain on the skylights, the ack-acking of ducks in the back garden the only sounds as I read and reread all my sentences, fussing over a word here, a comma there, tsk-tsking at typos—I filled pages of edits on that round.

 

2015-03-24 12.54.26-1
Weary of Our Own Words

And then I thought, I never have to read this book again. 

 

Right. Well. For future reference, “2nd Pages” is yet another round of copy-edits and proofreading sent with a throat-closing series of in-line comments, known as queries. You are once again on deadline. Forced to deal with this thing, this creation of 368 pages, you swore you’d never look at again.

 

These people. This amazing team of copy-editor and proofreader who both broke my heart and earned my undying gratitude last spring when they tore open my manuscript and forced me to consider this phrase or that, questioning this word, that translation, pointing out that I had Lia crossing the wrong bridge from the Marais to Île-de-la-Cité, that the sun was shining in the wrong direction, or that people seemed to be traveling endlessly NORTH at the ends of scenes. These people.

 

They’re baaaaaack. 

 

The edits I’d submitted in June, after poring over the ARC, had been incorporated, but here were more: more questioning of word choices, more “Chicago Manual of Style says this, what do you want to do?”, more (oh my god) “WAIT, here it says April, but later on, it’s still March” (ohmygodohmygodohmygod).

 

It took an 8-hour non-stop day to go through each query one-by-one, to consider, amend, agree, or state my case as to why I wanted something left as is. Not too bad, really. And at each turn, I felt this warm flush—a combination of gratitude at the opportunity for this second pass and utter horror What if there were no 2nd Pages?

 

But I’m not done. Responses to the queries have been submitted, but in these days before deadline I am doing what I thought I would not, never, ever, do again: I am rereading In Another Life, baby, one more time.

 

It’s going to be okay.

 

After a three-month interval since I last read these pages my words are again fresh to me. I catch myself simply reading along, forgetting that I’m supposed to be sifting each sentence like a handful of uncooked rice in a sieve, looking for the tiny pebbles and flawed grains. That’s a delicious feeling—to get caught up in your own story, turning the page in smiling anticipation.

 

And loving these characters so fully, perhaps for the first time, with an understanding of the grace and joy they’ve brought to my life.

 

Delete. Change. Add. Move. Replace.

 

Two-thirds through this reread and I have a list of sixty-five edits—beyond the copyedit and proofreading queries I’ve already addressed—small things, vital things, things this writer now sees and understands that the writer I was a year or two or even six months ago did not, could not.

 

Can I just tell you how excited I am to share this novel with you?

 

And with all the irony I can muster, I invite you to subscribe to my occasional newsletter—your subscription enters you in a random drawing to receive one of my ARCs while they last (through the end of 2015). A Collector’s Item, right? Because the ARC version and the published version will have differences—dozens, shoot, well over a hundred—that tilt the book’s horizon just so. Once I run out of ARCs, I’ll be drawing for copies of books that have enchanted, moved, blown my mind—books I think everyone should read!

Julie Christine Johnson’s Author Newsletter

23 thoughts on “Pencil, Meet Eraser

  1. Thank you, my dear, for my collector’s piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it may be slightly different than the final copy. It’s funny, I’m going through the same sort of thing right now with my book. I’ve finally (oy vey) created a paperback version of it and I just read through it (for the millionth time) yesterday doing the same kinds of edits. Or trying to. There were so many places I found myself flowing along with the words, into the story, forgetting my JOB was to not do that and pick it apart. But yes, that’s a lovely feeling. Especially when we kinda know what’s going to happen next. 😉

    Super excited for you!

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    1. It’s wonderful and amazing to see how much we learn and grow and change as writers.

      What I can say, as I contemplate the editing the sits before me for novel 2, is how relieved I am that it’s a linear story. I did a number on myself, writing a tricky, weavy, time changey plot the first time out. WHAT WAS I THINKING? 🙂 I didn’t know any better. HAH.

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  2. Readers are so quick to criticize and thrash an author’s work, not realizing how much blood, sweat, and tears went into writing, publishing, and marketing that novel. I wish the process were more simple. I am stuck writing my first novel. I have so many ideas for novels. I wish I could just write them all at once. If I could get paid for giving authors ideas for plots for novels, I’d be content. Bringing those ideas to a workable novel that is published and read by lots of readers sounds like a very time consuming process. Perhaps once you write your first novel and go through the process of getting it published and out there for readers to read, then the consecutive novels become easier to write and faster to publish and market. I have become overwhelmed by the process of writing a novel that my writing froze. I started experimenting with flash fiction and will now be exploring ways to get my words and ideas published through literary magazines. I am hoping this avenue of writing will thaw my inhibitions to write a novel. I look forward to reading your novel and participating in the outcome of your hard work and refinement process.

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    1. Oh, so much here that is full of the passion and pain of writing. I think each novel is its own animal, thrashing its way out of the den in its own time and way.

      It is hard to channel the energy, to make space for the words in a life with many competing creative, familial, financial, emotional demands. I hope you are able to pull back and look at the micro-level of your work- one scene, one page at a time, small goals.

      I’ve found wonderful release in writing short-form fiction-flash, short stories, poetry-and seeing those to publication can be motivation to continue with projects that may take years to find their way into the world.

      For me, yes, the writing of the second novel came much more easily. The third is happening in fits and starts- it has to fit in around the demands of the first two-picked up again only when I’ve met this deadline or that, satisfied this revision or the other.

      Keep going on that novel. I’ve found that not editing as I go, not re-reading more than the previous scene, just to reorient myself, allows me the freedom to write with minimal self-judgment. The story will reveal itself as you undertake revisions and begin carving away.

      I wish you light and peace!

      Julie

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  3. Ooooo! I love it when you share the REAL DEAL about your experience with this whole process of having your book published. Congratulations on staying the course, gritted-teeth, gracious revelations and all!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds exciting and slightly nerve-wracking, Julie. I’ve never published so I’m always interested in reading about the writing, re-writing and editing process. I love that you read your book cover to cover a few months later and can see it with fresh eyes. Look forward to reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so relieved the first time happens only once 🙂 The learning curve is steep but the ride is also so exhilarating. Fortunately, I’m tapped into such an amazing community of writers and can whine and moan and bewail to empathetic ears, while at the same time being reminded what a fortunate adventure this all is!

      Thank you so much for the amazing support, Geralyn! xoxox

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I submitted a short essay about the death of my ex-husband. The feedback was good, they suggested a lot of revisions. I revised and am waiting to hear back but it’s not really the same essay anymore. I can’t imagine editing a whole book! 🙂

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      2. This is wonderful news! It’s so rare to receive a “revise and resubmit”- a triumph.

        I have to say, there hasn’t yet been a time when I’ve received editorial feedback that wasn’t spot on. There are times when I’ve stated my case and stuck to my guns, but more often than not, I’ve come to agree with the feedback 🙂

        Thrilled for you! Can’t wait for the good news about when and where to find your work.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Love the kitty picture — looks like a good helper! 🙂 I am so, so excited for your book. And you know what? It would have been wonderful even without “2nd pages.” But now it will be even better!!

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    1. I’m afraid to read this novel a few months or years from now; I’m sure I’ll want to revise the whole thing 🙂
      I met author Jess Walter last week and talked a bit with him about my revising angst. He told me to trust the process. He rereads his books some time after publication and falls in love with them all over again. YAY! I hope to say the same thing.
      But no, I don’t think there is EVER a final draft! xoxo

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      1. That’s very cool that you got to meet him. You really like his work, right? I think you are the one who got me reading him. Take good care of yourself with all this work you are doing.

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  6. Julie,
    I loved this post! I feel your pain and your excitement. I’m at the same point with my book, though I’m self-publishing. It’s a roller coaster ride isn’t it? Thanks for reminding me of that fact. I can relax and enjoy the process.

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  7. Fascinating. I have a little understanding of your recent editing experiences as I’ve just started on a second draft of my own story. Long way to go. In the meantime looking forward to reading In Another Life. N

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    1. One step, then the next step, and the one after. Those earlier drafts (I’m in draft two, revision three of my third novel) are these wonderful voyages of discovery. I love that part. When you aren’t even close to being sick of your words 🙂

      I’ve read and revised this novel more than 20 times since December, when my editor sent the first round. And all the drafts I went through before submitting it for publication… I can’t even! But it’s also AMAZING. This living thing that changes before your very eyes. Each draft, each revision, is a gift.

      GO YOU!

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  8. What fun! Hope you are enjoying every minute of the process, Julie. Your description of the loft where you worked put me right in the place. It’s great that your publisher has such a supportive team for you – not every one does. Beta readers can catch a lot of these little flaws, but there’s nothing like a good editor who knows the place and time period.

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    1. Oh, thank you, Cynthia. Not every part has been enjoyable- there’s a lot of stress bringing a book into the world, particularly for a debut author – but it has ALL been amazing and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.

      I found beta readers helpful in the early stages of this book- long before I landed book contract – but once I had a publishing team in place (agent, principal editor, copy editors, proofreaders- even graphics and marketing weighed in!) it’s a conversation between professionals. Each publisher has a house style and a specific audience in mind and I would find “beta” voices unhelpful during this critical process of editing. My editors- principal as well as copy editors- really knew nothing of the time or place of the story, but they knew how to read and break down the story and, in the case of copy editors and proofreaders, how to fact check.

      But ultimately, of course, it’s the writer herself who bears the responsibility for her words. And oh, what a labor and burden of love it is!

      Liked by 1 person

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