Why Revising a Novel is Like A Firefighter Carwash
No. Really it is.
So, usually when I start revising a book, I feel like this:
This is the person organizing the fundraiser, which was a bunch of firefighters washing cars to raise money for Dana Farber's efforts to eradicate cancer. Notice how she has money in her hand? That's sort of like an author after the publisher buys her book and gives her an advance. Also, notice how she is hunkering down with her hands raised? This is because she is totally overwhelmed because she now has to REVISE her book.
Okay... Which brings us to this stage... See this guy? He has started actually revising or as I like to call it SUDSING UP THE SUV.
He's working hard. He's lightly touching the handle of the door for balance or in case he needs to escape all the suds... Because, seriously? LOOK AT ALL THE SUDS! These are all the corrections and insertions that need to be done, all the track changes. It is the cleaning up of the dirt, eradicating the mistakes...
How the heck is he ever going to manage this?
No. Seriously. HOW?
Because it isn't just about the suds it is about GETTING RID OF ALL THE SUDS, which I call the HOSING OFF! This is where the author is like, "Holy cannoli, I used the word, LOOK, 847 times in an 87,000 word manuscript. Whimper.
But the HOSING OFF stage is okay. I promise, because it makes us better writers with better vocabularies. It makes us rethink the moments where we use weak words, our go-to words, and we hose them the heck out of there to make a cleaner, stronger SUV... I mean book.
Plus, it defines our forearms as evidenced by the above firefighter. Managing a hose (or a vocabulary) is hard work. It builds up muscle.
And it's also about the next stage, REFINING, paying attention to detail or as I like to call it CLEANING THE RIMS OF YOUR TIRE THINGIES... Hubcaps? Those are hubcaps, right? Obviously, my vocabulary skills still need some work.
This stage of revising is that part where you go through the manuscript all over again and again, look for plot holes, repetition, emotional depth, inconsistencies in logic, all that arch stuff (internal, physical, emotional), and more. This is the nitty-gritty part. It requires bending and a soft, bright blue cloth.
And it seems overwhelming, right? It seems almost impossible? But it's not. And do you know why it's not? Because you are not alone.
Just like these firefighters working on a policeman's car, washing it clean, aren't alone, YOU the writer aren't alone either. There is an editor, a copy editor, sometimes beta readers, sometimes teachers, sometimes agents, readers, your check-out clerk at the grocery store, publicists, marketing people, random friends with ideas, women at bars, random blogs with suggestions, all sorts of people out there at the computer with you, helping your brain to gather all the things you have ever learned to make the right choices, the strongest choices to get the cleanest car story that you can have.
That's so cool, isn't it?
So, often writers go into revision feeling like we are all alone. But we never are. There is a community of people present, and learning past, that is right there with us, hosing off, detailing, worrying, and cleaning. At least that's what I tell myself when I start to feel lonely and worry and get scared.
I get scared all the time. That's okay. We all do.
*These pictures are all from the Bar Harbor (Maine) Fire Department's Car Wash this Spring where firefighters cleaned cars to raise money to support Dana-Farber's efforts to eradicate cancer. Our past fire chief, David Rand, died of cancer yesterday. He was a great loss, a hero, a man who served. The entire community will miss him. My deepest sympathy goes out to his family and friends.