The book is finished. This is when the hard work begins.
Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
(Ernest Hemingway, “The Art of Fiction,” The Paris Review Interview, 1956)
This is where I am at. Trying to get the words right. Walking helps clear the mind. The words come to me, I just have to remember them when I get back home. Luckily, now that we’ve moved, good walking routes are right outside my door. I just cross the Intracoastal and the options are limitless.
(E.B. White, The New York Times, August 3, 1942)
One of my beta-readers and I spent almost three hours on the phone Saturday. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing her feedback. It got the creative juices flowing.
Another reader has great attention to detail. A main character in the book has a dog named Fergus. My reader wondered why the dog didn’t join the characters on a walk in Chicago. I had to adjust the scene, she gave me a great line to use. Well, I actually stole it from her. I saw Joan Didion at the Portsmouth Music Hall two years ago and she said “all writers are thieves“, so I am in good company.
I told another beta-reader about Fergus, the fictional dog, and how I had neglected him during the walk in Chicago chapter, which led to correcting numerous scenes where I had to worry about Fergus. The characters visit a museum. What do they do with Fergus? Can they leave him in the car? How about when they dine at a restaurant? I put them at a table with a parking lot view, the car parked close to the window. I was constantly wondering where this fictional dog was and what I should do with him. We both agreed this is exactly why we don’t own a dog.
Editing is a bit like life. You keep fixing your characters, trying to get them right. We do this in life too, we keep fixing ourselves, trying to get it right. But as a writer you need to know when to stop editing and let it go. I’m not sure if in real life we ever stop editing and let it go. My characters and I are works in progress.