By Louise Ure
“When I’m done writing that final scene, I save the work then press Send and never read it again.”
That’s just paraphrasing the conversation I had with Lee Child a couple of weeks ago in New York, but it’s very close to what he said, and it stunned me.
I was in town for an MWA Board Meeting and a signing at Partners & Crime. Lee had ambled over from his apartment to join the fun. As he and I often do, we found ourselves braving the icy January temperatures outside the bookstore in pursuit of nicotine.
I’d told him my third book was done, but that I wasn’t completely happy with it yet.
“Then it’s not done, is it?”
Well, when you look at it that way, Mr. Smartypants, I guess not.
I’m a revisionist, you see. Once I have the entire book down in a concrete form, I go back and change everything. Not just tightening the writing or adding a bit of back story. Everything. The characters’ names, the point of view, the ending. When I revised Forcing Amaryllis, I changed who the villain was. In The Fault Tree’s revision, I changed the crime that had been committed.
The editing I have planned for this third book could turn it from a chrysalis to a butterfly. Or not. But it will definitely be changed.
That’s not the way Lee works. When he sits down to write, he rereads and edits the work from yesterday and then adds new scenes or chapters. And on the last day — when he finishes that final scene – he hits Save and then sends it off to his editor.
WHAT????? No rereading from page one to see if it still makes sense? No agonizing over the final line in the penultimate chapter? No second thoughts about having all those character names starting with the letter M? No angst about whether the protagonist’s motivation is clear in that scene?
I think Lee’s vision is clearer and his aim is truer than mine. He doesn’t outline, but he knows where the book is going and how to take it there. And the fact that he’s written nine more books than I have doesn’t hurt either.
I, on the other hand, muddle.
And I revise.
Lee knows when a book is done because that’s when he’s written the last line. I know a book is done when I’ve exhausted every possible avenue of change, written and erased an additional forty thousand words, and bored myself silly rereading it.
I would love to end my second-guessing. To have that kind of confidence or skill. To write a book, hit Save and then Send.
Instead I plod along, wiping out entire casts of characters and rebuilding back story to support a plot development I came up with later.
This third book will change in ways I haven’t imagined yet. And the revision will probably take just as long as the original creation of the book did.
Oh, to be Lee Child!
I’m traveling back to San Francisco from Seattle today, so I may not be able to check in on blog comments as often as I’d like. But I’d love to hear your stories. Are you Child-like in your work or do you find Ure-self agonizing over revisions? When do you know your book is done?
And it’s Primary Day in 22 states. Go vote, or I’ll have to take away your whining rights for the next four years.