As with anyone who writes a series, I receive quite a few questions about progress which I try to answer as best I can, but I thought it would be helpful to post something with a bit more detail. The biggest question I would want answered if I were on the reader’s side would be, “What is taking so long?” It’s a fair question and I’ll try to give it a fair answer.
The rough draft of book 2 took about four months to write. It held the basic plot (with gaps) and the general character arcs. The term, rough draft, though, is somewhat misleading. A better description would be a horrible, unreadable, rubbish draft. To the writer, it’s a magical draft because the writer sees the intention, and it is without doubt the most important draft. But if anyone else tried to read it, the experience would be most disappointing ― no, infuriating. The story is in there, but it takes the writer a great deal more work to extract it from the thorns. Enter rewriting.
“I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” ― Vladimir Nabokov
“The only kind of writing is rewriting.” ― Ernest Hemingway
Rewriting is the process of going through the manuscript with infinite care and seeking to improve wherever improvement is possible. It’s more than editing, though that is a part of it. As the term suggests, much of the book is replaced and written with more care. There comes a point when one needs to let go, but that point, for most conscientious writers, is far removed from the first draft. I did several rewrites of the first book, the first being a massive overhaul and the last being a subtle tweaking of words to ensure that sentences sounded right, that the tones of adjacent words interacted well.
When it comes to rewriting, different authors have different foci. Here are some of the aspects I concentrate on, the things I try to achieve. To an extent, I look for anything that can improve at any point in the rewrites, but certain stages favour certain elements. I should also mention that with A Cloud in Her Eye, I’m running stages in parallel. More on that here. (What follows is a heavily abbreviated description. The full list is several pages long.)
1st draft. Rough story. Layers of potential. Unreadable.
1st rewrite. Add detail – specific replaces general (requiring a ton of research). Continuity of plot and realness of characters. Relationships – to me, characters are revealed and known best by the relationships formed with other characters. If those relationships seem real, then the so do the characters. The most comprehensive list of qualities and mannerisms can’t deliver a fraction of the sense of personhood as a compelling interaction. I find that relationships are also the strongest root of a reader’s concern for the people in the story, leading to a far deeper emotional engagement. Perhaps even more important, relationships are one of the most effective ways to achieve resonance – that “I know exactly what you mean” sensation. When you read of people interacting in ways that ring true, the story begins to seem a lot more real, not in the sense of breaking fantasy, but of making the fantasy more believable. This, when it’s done right, leads to that experience we as readers are always searching for – immersion.
2nd rewrite. Depth, magic, sparkle, flow, atmosphere, word usage. This is where I try to get settings and characters to float up from the page. I also work hard at eliminating hackneyed, lazy forms of expression. I can spend hours on a few sentences, searching for fresh ways to convey ideas. This usually entails throwing out a hundred or more attempts that seem awkward before finding one that blends into the style of the book. Sometimes it’s the first idea that works best, flowing naturally off the page; often it takes a lot of thinking to reach an idea that flows as if it were the first one that came to mind.
Beta readers – first group. Beta readers can take a while, so I will probably write the rough draft of the third book during this time. It gives me a break from the one I’m rewriting, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes.
3rd rewrite. This one concentrates on the feedback from the beta readers. In the first book, I made significant improvements, cut a few scenes and wrote additional ones.
4th rewrite. General fixes. Restoration of continuity following the surgery (or butchery) in the previous revision. Again, I work on imbuing each page with more sparkle, magic, depth, emotion and resonance, both in characters and their settings.
Beta readers – second group.
5th rewrite. By this stage there shouldn’t be any major fixes necessary, but some tweaks will inevitably be needed. The rest of the revision will be smoothing out and finding typos. I’ll put an emphasis on sounding the book – getting rid of unwanted echoes and other tonal problems.
6th rewrite. This is quick and really more of a read-through – error spotting. External editing will likely run parallel to this.
While I’ll probably keep relatively close to this six-rewrite process, it’s more of a guide than a rigid structure, and there are sections that will likely be rewritten dozens of times. I rewrote the first chapter in the début perhaps 40 times before I was happy. First chapters are notorious. The artwork will happen in the background, so that by the time the last revision is done, the book should be ready to launch.
I’ll admit that I am strongly tempted (and strongly advised by many rapid-firing authors) to release as quickly as I can. But I’m not comfortable with that. The average amount of time taken to complete a decently written series of books around this length is not short, and as I’m finding out, there is good reason for that.
One last quote:
“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”― Samuel Johnson
The effort going in on my side, will, I hope, be appreciated in the end. Thank you, everyone who has mailed me to tell not to rush it, to take the time to get it right. It really is encouraging to know I’m backed up in that way. Patience is a rare thing these days and I value the understanding more than you can imagine.
As a side note, Anyone know of some good resources for ancient (pre-cannon) sailing ships? I have a dozen or so books on the subject, but if you know of a gem or two, please mail me. Thanks.