Alright, then. I’ve now read most of the notes from my “test” readers, read most of not one, but TWO books about revising your novel, and taken a full-day class on novel revision.
I’ve got good news and bad news.
The good news is that nothing I’ve seen out of any of my recent crash course has led me to believe that I’m out of the game. Readers were generally encouraging in their comments. Where they couldn’t be encouraging, they had great, constructive feedback regarding places where they thought it could be stronger. Nobody had anything terrible to say! Ok, almost nobody, and… depending on your definition of “terrible”.
The bad news is twofold. The first part of the bad news is that no one was completely knocked out of their chair by the dramatic, intellectual or emotional powerhouse that is my first novel. Nobody said anything about Pulitzers or PEN/Faulkners, nor were these awards or the possibilities of them hinted at, nor alluded to between lines. Believe me, I looked. Mostly I think I’ve achieved “This doesn’t suck. There are very great places, and there are some not so great places.” That’s alright. I can live with that.
What’s a little harder to live with… didn’t come from my readers. It came from my own self-assessment after reading James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self Editing for Publication and taking Michelle Hoover’s excellent “Facing Your Revision” class at Grub Street. By my reckoning, I’ve actually got miles, thousands of miles to go. I’m poised right between being exhilarated by a sense of what’s now possible with the novel, and being devastated by how much work I might still have before me. My problem isn’t that I have an unworkable piece of crap. My problem is that I have already put so much time into this project, thought I was near the end of the journey, and just learned I haven’t even left my own village yet.
These are biggish problems, but not insurmountable. I have some big technical changes to make, which do not daunt me. But I also have to do some things that will feel a lot like standing over a meadow filled with my own children, and letting rip with a massive flamethrower to see which children are strong enough to survive. Some of this will hurt, but it’s my own damn fault for getting so attached without really knowing what I was doing.
I think I’m going to need some kind of plan.
[ps & fyi the title of this post comes from one of my all-time favorite stories, Tennessee Williams' "The Field of Blue Children", which I've mentioned here before]