I was thinking about my book this morning, the one I'm preparing for the agent (he'd asked for minor revisions so we can send it out again to publishers in January). Looking back, I know this book has gone through SEVERAL renovations, some small, some drastic. Most of them, at the kind suggestion of agents who saw some promise, but knew it wasn't "ready" yet.
This revised version looks significantly different than the rough draft I wrote three years ago. And I was wondering this morning, what made the difference? What makes this version so different from (and, hopefully, so much better than) the original rough draft? I mean, the main characters are pretty much the same. The setting is totally the same (charming English village). The primary plot/theme (unrequited love, childhood friendships) is the same.
And the main difference I could pinpoint is one thing: richness. There's a depth and richness to this final version that wasn't present in the original. Every word, every scene is meaningful--it belongs right where it is. Through the months, I've added a couple of stronger sub-plots, fleshed out ALL the characters to some degree, trimmed a lot of unnecessary fat, (caught a few major inconsistencies - ack!!), and added a "history" to the characters--all of which, I think, adds up to a fuller, richer story. It feels weighty now, where it didn't before.
The lesson learned? That I need to recognize when a novel isn't ready to submit. That there are times it's not "weighty" enough for publication. That it takes TIME and energy to make a novel better, richer. To keep chipping away, much like a sculptor would do, until it's ready. Until it looks like something that's ready.
In fact, I think that's a good analogy - a sculptor doesn't stop when the work is half-finished - when it's "pretty good," but not good enough. When parts of the sculpture are still "blob-like," without detail fleshed out. No, he/she keeps chipping away, piece by piece, until it's finished. Until it's ready. Until it's rich with detail, and free of any "blobs."
And, I can tell you, as HARD as it is, getting a novel that ready, it's worth every drop of sweat and every single frustrating sigh. Because I can feel proud of it now. In a way I never could before. I've earned those characters, that story. They were the result of countless hours of thought, of brainstorming, of willingness to make changes.
The good news is that, through this grueling process, I think I've learned some tips and pointers, to the extent that the next book I write will be a wee bit easier. Because now, I'm more prone to recognize weak sub-plots, extraneous detail, not-ready-drafts. Not to say the editing process will go smoother or will be any shorter--but I guess I'll be better prepared for it. And, yes, maybe I'll save myself a little bit of time, by recognizing those weak spots right away and knowing how to fix them!