Last night, I stayed up late finishing the final edits to my novel manuscript before sending it to my agent for the second time. The first time I sent it to him, it was in the “well, I finished the novel but I’m still working on it because it’s not quite right, but here you can see that it’s finished” stage. This time it was in the “I hope you like it because honestly I can’t stand to look at it anymore” stage.
If you’re a writer and you’re sending manuscripts out, you know the stage I mean. It’s where you read through the manuscript on screen and decided to take out “that,” and then you read it on paper and decided to put “that” back in. And as you’re putting “that” back in, you stare at the screen, trying to read it both ways: with and without the word “that,” which really is only one of approximately 108,700 words in your manuscript. But there you are, agonizing over the one word. (“That” is one of my particular, personal problems. I did not realize this until an editor pointed it out and I did a word search on the short story she was editing. Sure enough, there were an awful lot of “that”s, about half of them unnecessary.)
These are the sorts of questions you ask yourself when you’re at that stage:
1. Should she have “dark brown” or “darker brown” hair?
2. Have I used the word “monkey” too often? (Word search for “monkey.”)
3. Do I need to mention that she left her umbrella at home? It wasn’t raining that morning.
4. How many characters are snoring? Is that too many characters? Do I need to cut some of the snoring?
5. Wait, where is her revolver? Is she holding it all this time?
I did, in fact, cut some of the snoring.
I sent the manuscript out around midnight, as an emailed document file, about 370 pages long (double-spaced). And then I celebrated by eating chocolate and watching two episodes of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which took me to the end of Season 2. Now I have to wait until they film Season 3, which is entirely too long . . . If you haven’t heard of it, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is an Australian television series based on the books by Kerry Greenwood. If your taste in stories and television shows is anything like mine, you will love them. I adore Phryne (pronounced Fry-oh-nee), her 1930s Lady Detective, and I have to admit that I’m in love with Detective Inspector Jack Robinson. But that’s based just on the television series, since I haven’t read the books . . . yet.
So there I was, sitting in bed, in pajamas, eating dark chocolate with sea salted almonds in it, watching Miss Fisher on my computer (I don’t have a television). Thoroughly enjoying myself. And I thought: this is why I write. Because someday, someone might need something to entertain them, or cheer them up, or even just pass the time. And maybe my book will do that.
I think that’s worth all the agonizing over “that.”
It’s fair to say this novel took me two years to write: the first few chapters were written earlier, but I had to rewrite them after I finished my PhD and moved into my previous apartment. I had been thinking about the novel in the wrong way, and it took the mental freedom of having finished my degree to get it right. That apartment was where I really wrote the novel, finishing it last summer in Budapest and then adding the final chapters when I moved into this apartment, in August. Since then, I’ve been revising. And of course there has been a lot of revising along the way . . . Sometimes I think it’s pretty good, sometimes I worry that it’s awful and I just can’t see its awfulness. But I figure, it’s only the first full-length novel I’ve written, so if I mess up the first time, I’ll get it right the second time. Or the third. Or fourth. I’ll just keep writing . . . Someday, there will be a woman in pajamas, with chocolate, and she will stay up late to read something I wrote. Or maybe even watch something based on it, on her television screen!
So thank you, Kerry Greenwood, for doing that for me. You don’t know me from Eve, and you’re all the way on the other side of the world, in a country I’ve never visited, but you gave me two lovely hours. Oh yes, a television show is always separate from the book, although based on it. But it would not have existed without you, sitting in a room, probably in front of a computer, agonizing over that final draft. Just like me.
These images are from the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries television show and the first book in the series, which I now want to read . . .