This is the fifth in a series of blogs, published every other week, about my writing process. Now I have (as you may have read over the past few weeks) a completed first draft that I have read through and revised several times. I’ve cut out sections that don’t add to my narrative and perhaps added a few that clarify my story. It’s time for the most exhausting day of my process. Whenever I’ve completed a fresh draft that includes significant revisions, I like to sit down and read the entire manuscript in one day. The last time I did this I started at 9:00 in the morning and finished about 10:30 that night, pausing only for a couple of phone calls and to feed the dog (and to a certain extent, myself).
Why do I put myself through this emotionally draining experience? Two reasons. First, it helps me see the entire story and begin to really think of it as a book, not just a pile of papers. Second, and more importantly, by reading the book in essentially one sitting, I can hold the whole thing in my head at once, if only for that day. This is extremely helpful in finding inconsistencies in the characters, holes in the plot, repetitions of material and so on.
This day is mostly about reading, not correcting or revising. While I will mark typos and little mistakes, cutting out a word here and adding one there, I don’t try to fix any major problems I come across on that day. Instead I use little post-it flags to mark places to which I need to return and work. This way I can keep reading and focus on the story, instead of being distracted by trying to solve a particular problem.
The “read through in one sitting” day can end up putting me on an emotional knife edge. I remember one time when reading through The Bookman’s Tale I got to the scene where Amanda dies (this is not really a spoiler, because we find out in the first couple of pages that she is dead). I was so upset by what happened that I almost hurled the manuscript across the room. Instead, I put the pages down, took a breath, and smiled. If I could get this emotionally involved in the life (and death) of my characters, maybe they would be real to a reader.
This step may not be for everyone, but I find it helpful. For any one novel I will repeat this step two or three times. I always do it at least once before I send the manuscript to my agent and once after I have completed whatever changes my editor asks for. It’s a tiring day, but in the end I find it a worthwhile part of my process.