Schrodinger’s Manuscript

I finished my first pass revisions of my second novel this weekend. That’s the first step in my editing process, when I just go through and read the book and fix anything that sticks out. I found some contradictions within the logic of the mystery, which I fixed, and ended up combining a couple minor characters into one. I also added a few scenes to build up the profile of some of the suspects in Olivia and Chris’s murder du jour to support the whodunnit aspect. Mostly though, my changes were just cutting scenes down, curbing my natural tendency towards long-winded dialogue segments, and making sentences a lot shorter and more elegant. The big revisions come later. A first pass is more just about getting the book ready to be seen by someone else’s eyes in a way that isn’t just embarrassing for everyone involved.

That “someone else” has the book now. She’s my alpha reader and she understands story structure like a master.  She does amazing job giving feedback on the actual content of my work, be it positive (hopefully) or negative (inevitably.) She’s also an adult, possessed of a life filled with adult things, and my books are around the 400 pages range. Not doorstoppers, but not afternoon reads, either. So it’ll take her a few days at least to get through the book.

And this, for some reason, might be the part of the process I find most stressful!

Before I do my first pass, my book mostly exists in theory, to me. It’s not a novel. It’s a collection of scenes that I wrote over a period of six months. It’s the legacy of one too many Starbucks refreshers and listening to Electroswing so loud I’m going to have hearing problems in fifteen years. It’s a patchwork Frankenstein’s monster, shambling through the slums of my harddrive. It’s not a book.

But once I’ve read it, everything changes. I see what I was thinking in my outline. How this scene leads into this one and how it all fit together. It’s not just a collection of scenes, some of which I wrote what feels like ages ago. This is actually a book! I start getting excited, I realize it’s not a complete disaster, I like what I’m reading! And then I send it off to my first alpha reader and…

Oh, God.

Something about this step just paralyzes me. Like the cat in the box that is both dead and alive, right now my book is both good and terrible. The thing is, even with all the insight provided by my first pass, I am still in no position to judge my own writing! I know it too well. The characters, the world, the mystery, the plot twists. I am not objective enough to be able to read the book and know if it works.

Until I get the response back from my first draft, it’s like I’m hanging in the balance.

A few days from now, I’ll have that response. We’ll open the box and the manuscript will be either good or it won’t be. Reality will collapse back and I’ll know what I have in front of me. What changes will I have to make before it goes to the next alpha reader on my list? What should my goals be working towards my final draft? How much work does it still need? And then I’ll be fine! Give me a mission and I’ll carry it out.

But, oh, this in-between state could kill a writer! I’d forgotten how it felt when I finished The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. I am definitely remembering now.

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