I have entered upon that decent into darkness that is revising a first draft. The draft in question: Book Three of No Safety in Numbers. (New Idea has been put on hold until this process is complete.) I haven’t read this draft in two months, which means that it feels like someone else’s book. Which is perfect.

Revision requires this kind of distance. I need to read this bad boy and feel nothing maternal—this can’t be my baby when my goal is to tear it apart. I have to approach the text as just that: text, or rather text in need of some re-envisioning. It puts me kind of in the place of my reading partners: I can get out of my brain (or at least read from the point of view of a slightly different, two-months-later brain) and see my story for what it is, warts and all.

And believe me, this puppy has warts. In some places, I’m pleasantly surprised by a witty scene or a fresh metaphor that is exactly right, but more often than not, I am horrified that this kind of drivel ever oozed out through my fingers onto the page. But that is the pleasure of the first draft. There, I was free to write whatever needed to be written to get at the stuff I was trying to find. Now is the time to carve that stuff into something worth reading.

What is my process?

I print out the whole book. Then I read it, pencil in hand.

Where a sentence is terrible, I make notations that look like this.

I sometimes just do the correction if it’s a typo or something comes to me, but mostly I just mark places where my interest strayed or where I had trouble reading a paragraph. If I’m having trouble, lord knows how anyone else is going to be able to read it!

I also keep a notebook and some tape flags handy. I mark places where I need to do more research. I write down the “big ideas” in the notebook.

Finally, there are the cookies. They are a crucial part of the process.

Now, back to work.

(And if you’re wondering what that wooly thing in the background is, it’s a sculpture of a ram that I think I got in Australia. Yes, it’s a real sheepskin.)


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