Friday, December 10, 2010

The Sixty Percent Rule

by Laurel Corona

I finished my fourth novel, THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD, in September (that's me on my summer research trip, outside a tiny synagogue in Tomar, Portugal). I finished it again in October, and again in November.  Now it’s December and I am finishing it again.  Getting a book to the point where you can say, “I’m really, truly done now” (as in not needing to take another look or add another detail), feels like an endless process.
 I have something I call the 60 percent rule, which says that once you have written the last words of a book you are about 60 percent done with the work. First, there are massive amounts of revision that need to be done even to a manuscript you have been revising constantly as you go along.  This late-stage revising, believe it or not, is in some respects more exhausting and demands more of the author than the writing did.  After the revisions are done, there are several more as the book goes through the publishing process.  

The work after the sale I’ll discuss another time. In this post, I'll illustrate that 60 percent point and a little beyond, by collecting up my Facebook posts between late August and now on the subject of “finishing” THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD.
8/29 Fingers are smoking. I am careening to the end of THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD. Don't care how good it is, don't care if there are typos and deadwood, I just can't tell the story fast enough. Time for all the fixing later.
9/13 Today I dig into the final chapter.... Writing the last chapter of any novel is emotional--like seeing a child leave home.... I'm already a bit of a basket case, and I haven't started writing yet.
9/15 Not much sleep last night, but I see the way now into the last few scenes of my novel in progress. Worth a few yawns today,
9/21 I just wrote the last words of my novel. Turned out I really didn't know how it was going to end... but I knew when I got there. Now the familiar emptiness, nausea, dazed stagger, and then, by tonight, the champagne.
10/7 I am eager to get back to my novel. I guess I have taken enough of a break. Just a few more days of miscellany, then it's back to the excitement of seeing it through.
10/10 Back into revising THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD this morning. Really liking the book--always a good thing! 
10/13 Kicking butt on the ms of Shape of the World. Only 120 pages left to revise before sending it out to my great team of advisors, then another revision after they get done with it, and the ms is off to my agent! Still on track for finishing in 2010!
10/14 The last pages of any book never get as many layers of revision over as long a period of time as the rest of the book, so I decided not to worry about getting the last 70 done with one pass. I've gotten to the end now, and it's quite a bit better, but I am going to go through it several times more to get it as good as the rest. Still, I'm very close!
10/17 Looking at my last ten pages, I see the problem is that I have an ending but don't have the nuances and meaning down yet. I need to imagine the setting and the characters a bit more vividly and then the ending will come to life. It's complicated by the fact that emotionally I both do and don't want something I have been so deeply and intimately involved with to end. It's hard to focus and equally hard to stay away.
10/19 Just hit "send" on THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD. Agent Meg Ruley has it now. Hope she loves it!
11/2 Thinking about taking a peek at THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD, to start revising. I lasted two weeks on hiatus. Well, I haven't actually opened the file yet, so the clock is still ticking.
11/18 Hubba, hubba--the first 90 pages (part one) of THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD are truly finished now, as in the best I can do. 500 more to go.
11/22 Almost at the halfway mark in the final revision of THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD. This is the easier half. The further you get into a book, the fewer times you have gone back over and revised it already. Still, right now I am VERY HAPPY with this book.
12/2 Whoopee! I am finished with the back matter (afterword, Q&A, acknowledgments, readers' guide) except for the glossary, which is really best done in connection with going through the whole thing again for yet another revision. I'm getting there, though, and it feels pretty good!
12/4 Glossary and Q&A finished. Now ready to bear down on making the last 100 pages as intense as they deserve to be.
12/ 5 Doing well incorporating revisions and ratcheting up some of the scenes. 70 pages to go, but these are the pages that need the most work. Maybe by the end of the week...
12/6  35 hard pages to go, but of course, I 'll probably just start at the beginning again. ;-)
I hope this gives a sense for what the seemingly endless cycle of “finishing” is like.  Where am I now?  As of today, I am finished again.  I’d better call it quits before it finishes me.  My friend, author Susanne Dunlap has counseled me thus: “It's hard to make yourself get to the point where you say, ‘I'm not going to start at the beginning again. Someone else needs to have a go!’”
She’s absolutely right, and I’m there. I really am!!  Except maybe for one last peek....
Follow Laurel’s life as a writer at her Facebook page, Laurel Corona Author


Laurel Corona said...

Just thought I would add that although I said I was finished on 12/6, I am still revising and now hope to be done by the end of this week. No, really!!! ;-)

Kathleen B. Jones said...

Wonderful evocation of what always feels like an endless process. Thanks for the insights, Laurel. Instead of counting blog posts, to give a sense of the process of "completion," that precedes any real completion--which is to say, going into production!--I looked at the number of versions of chapters of my last book I had stored in a file on my computer. Phew! You are so right; revising is more exhausting, though in a distinctive way, then the first round-completion.

Jennifer Coburn said...

I saw PENELOPE'S DAUGHTER at Borders last week. Congrats on your new novel!!

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