The story of how a book changes in the making is endlessly interesting to me. Eleanor began as a story about faith, and over its many years evolved into a story about family. Awake in the World, my latest one, began as a story about misfortune, and has evolved into the story of two young people and what it means to have a dream.
The book will be published in February; advance copies should arrive here at Hill House in the coming week. Even so, minor revisions continue to be made to the book. A few weeks ago, a package arrived containing the entire novel, designed and ready to print:
At this stage of the process, both I and a proofreader are simultaneously reviewing the manuscript. The proofreader's looking for errors; I'm looking at these words, asking myself: Are these the words I want to be in the world? It is, in a sense, my last opportunity to rewrite myself.
And so I did, making mostly small revisions: change a word here, fix an incorrect tense there. The changes are mostly workmanlike, though now and then I rewrote things so they'd sing, just a bit more.
When you write a novel that takes place in the real world, sometimes you find that real world things don't quite line up with the story you want to tell. You're writing a novel, not nonfiction, so: are you permitted to rewrite the world itself, just a little, to support the story? I did exactly that, moving a historical event three years into the past; in the acknowledgments of the book, I'd admitted this revision. This decision held up through every draft of the book, right up until now: the proofing stage.
I'm not sure this is a good idea, the proofreader pointed out. My editor reconsidered it, and decided she agreed; I reconsidered it, and decided that I did, too. On Wednesday I must return one final draft of Awake in the World, this time with some accommodations made for history, and some (perhaps less-worrisome) fictional accommodations made.
I think some authors would be pretty upset about this, my editor said. I'm happy you're not. But I sort of love this part of book-making, of storytelling. Nothing I write is ever correct in the beginning, and every revision is an act of making a story more right. But my own perception of what is more right changes with each new draft. That's true even after the book will be published. There are a hundred things I'd change, maybe more, about Eleanor. And the truth is, that's probably how it'll be with every book. But you have to stop sometime. You have to declare a thing done.
Awake isn't done yet, but by Wednesday, it will be.
And then I'll go back to writing the first draft of the next book, which itself will go through many drafts, many revisions, before it is the book that will be published. And when it's done? When it's on a shelf, awaiting someone's purchase? I'll still wish I had it for another draft or two.