As I mentioned earlier, I hired an editor to read my first manuscript and provide high-level feedback. About a month after I sent it along, I got an email from her. She'd attached a Word document containing her critique of the book, and I opened it right away--anxious to see what she had to say. The first sentence read:
For me what's strongest in your novel is the clean, clear prose writing.
Hrm. That sounded a lot like a preamble to bad news. She continued on with a nice long paragraph detailing a few specific strong points that ended with:
This feels like a good draft to work with.
Okay, good. I'd known it wasn't my best work--that's why I'd sent it to her, to help prioritize what needed to change to make it better--so I hadn't expected a stellar review or anything. But, with the one-paragraph "What's Working Well" section out of the way, what was on the next seven pages of her notes?
A ton of constructive, critical feedback on topics including genre, storyline, structure, lack of specific details, emotion, showing instead of telling, and the dog (she's a dog person, so the protagonist's furry friend got its own section in the critique). I read it all, agreeing with almost everything, and thought to myself, "Shit, it'd be less work to start over with a different novel."
She wanted me to cut out the fantasy subplot (which was what I was excited to write about at first, but did admittedly become a bit of a third wheel as I progressed). She wanted me to stay in the main character's point of view through the whole novel. She wanted me to provide more vivid details for the sex scenes, without being graphic. And she wanted all that plus another half-dozen heavy changes that would result in major rework.
Demoralized, I talked it over with Jody. She read the review, listened to my concerns, and then said something like, "Well, my guess is that this kind of work and rework is what being a professional writer is all about--it's hard work."
I sighed. She was, of course, correct. Then I had my final debrief call with the editor and, when I asked her if she thought I should just give up on this one and move onto the next, she said no. She reassured me that she'd received manuscripts that were in much rougher shape; that in my case I had something good to work with and a pretty clear path for making it better.
So, after those two discussions and a couple of days to mull things over, I carried my laptop back up to my office and resumed plugging away at it.
And it felt great. I could feel the story improving with every change, whether it was small (naming an ancillary character and letting her share two lines of dialog about her past that help explain her actions) or large (reworking the entire ending to compensate for the eviscerated fantasy subplot). It was a slog at first, since I felt like I was disassembling some complicated piece of machinery that I might not ever get working again, but the longer I struggled with it, the easier it became.
And I got much more excited about the novel. The story changed a lot, but it felt so much more like a real work of fiction than the first draft had. The changes were for the better.
Then summer came, and my pace slowed to a crawl. But, just two weeks ago, I forced myself to get through the last of the changes and sent the revised manuscript off to another editor for full copyediting. And I'm fully committed to just implementing whatever edits she comes back with and calling the damn thing done.
Could I further improve it with another major revision? I don't know, sure, but I think that this particular story has been told. I'm going to use that energy for novel number two, which I plan to start in two days when the kids go back to school, instead.