Lately I’ve been thinking about my brain as a department store with multiple stories. It has an elevator with an operator who takes me to different floors. If you’re not old enough to remember elevator operators in their perky uniforms, you’ve probably seen them in movies. Second floor – Ladies apparel. Third Floor – Men’s Haberdashery. Fourth floor – Home Furnishings. The elevator operator knew what was on all the floors and was happy to answer questions. Something was lost when escalators and self-guided elevators became the norm.
I’ve realized that while I am doing all the other things I do during the course of my life, my brain is navigating the department store that is my novel revision. The store has a lot of floors, one for each of the many characters in my book, and the elevator is whizzing up and down trying to keep details straight. It’s best if that happens when I’m at my computer. If I’m not and I wonder if what Yvie said in Chapter Two is consistent with what she tells her twin sister three scenes later, I have to stop what I’m doing – like folding laundry – and go to my computer to find the two relevant places in the text.
Folding laundry is easy to stop and restart. Searing scallops for dinner is another matter. That requires me to hold a thought until I can write it down. Scallops do not wait. And my brain elevator may get stuck between floors.
Those niggly details pop up at unexpected times and demand attention. Sometimes the scribbled notes I made don’t make any sense. Why can’t my elevator operator take notes? Which makes me wonder — is this the sort of thing I could tell Alexa, if I had one?
My department store brain also has a basement, but the elevator operator – his name is Bob – doesn’t like to go down there. Bob says sometimes the elevator goes there all on its own and weird stuff gets on. I have known that to happen.
For the past two weeks I have been purging my office, culling old files and crawling under the furniture to dust. I brought in a new filing cabinet, removed a piece of furniture and repostioned a ceiling tall bookcase. All in anticipation of getting back the first full critique of the third book of my Caribbean series — the whole thing. I’ve had helpful critiques on chapters by my Working Writers Forum group, but this was the whole manuscript and I wanted the decks cleared.
That happened on Saturday morning. I have to admit I was anxious. I knew this editor, who is also a friend, would give me her unvarnished opinion. And she did. Some parts she liked and she had some excellent suggestions for how to fix some things I knew just didn’t work. She brought to my attention story threads that had been left hanging.
There were a number of places where she noted that what I knew in my head about the characters had never made it onto the pages. I suppose all of us who write long fiction struggle, at some point in the process, of being too close to the story to know what is missing. She also made a detailed spreadsheet for me which included (among other things) the timeline, where and when characters appeared, and thematic issues. I printed it out on legal size paper and taped pages together. This will be easier for me to work with than referring to the computer screen.
My next step is to read through all the notes in the manuscript. There are some plot and character arcs that need attention. I need to think about those and make some fix-it notes before I start the rewrite. My goal is to be ready to begin by the end of the weekend.
Full steam ahead.
In a week or two I will get back the comments of a writing friend who agreed to look at my third novel in the Caribbean series. I’m anxious. Mostly that’s the way I’m wired. Just ask my patient husband. But I am anxious to get back to the book after not thinking about it for most of the summer. And I’m anxious to see what suggestions she has for improving the story.
Then I will begin revisions. Don Roff writes, “I’ve found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.”
I’m hoping I won’t need this.