Page 383: Reflections On Editing My Novel

For six months, I’ve been thinking about Page 383.


Page 383 is the end of the first draft of my novel. The first draft that I finished in September of last year.

That draft, when printed in Arial 12 size font with stretched margins, came out to be 383 pages. And since I printed that out—in October, after a break— I’ve been thinking about that last page. Because when I got to it, and only when I got to it, would I have edited that entire stack of paper.

And yesterday, on a gray morning in Rome, I sat the desk in my Airbnb and I finished editing Page 383. And then I walked down to Trastevere and got myself some gelato and ate it as the day cleared and the sun came out.

Picture of Page 383 of The Horatians novel first draft
The first draft didn’t even use spellcheck: “thsi”

It took me six months to get there. When I started editing, much as when I started writing, I had no idea how long it’d take me. In both cases, it was my first time undertaking such a large project. I had no idea the challenges that would come.

One challenge was of my own doing. Because to make the writing part easier, I didn’t edit at all. I sat down each day and wrote, regardless of whether it made any sense or used the right tense or re-introduced a character I had already introduced. Beyond even that, I decided to switch from first person to third person narration halfway through. So that meant that every instance of “I” or “we” or “us” in the first 175 pages had to be redone.

And so it was six months going through all of that and more—one word and one sentence at a time. And I had to make notes, this time, of when I actually introduced a character. Or when I needed to break from the plot to put in some kind of description of where these characters were. In the six months of editing, whole chapters were chopped up and re-added. I still have a list of “orphaned” scenes which got cut that I couldn’t bring myself to delete entirely.

It took me six months to get through those 383 pages. That’s a rate of just over 2 pages per day—if you’re counting weekends, and travel days, and friends’ visits and days I just felt like going somewhere new and doing something different.

Because I wrote the book while traveling through South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.And I edited it while traveling through the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and, finally, Italy.

That’s 11 countries. And 11 different places with their own distractions and museums and wonder to pull me away from the book. I knew I wanted to travel while I wrote this, but that also presented its own set of challenges.

And when it was all said and done, I came out with a pace of just over two pages a day. It sounds paltry, really. But I can assure you it wasn’t. I didn’t work on it everyday, but I did most. And a good day was getting through four or maybe five pages.

Because editing is a slow burn and grind. I love writing. I think I’ll always love writing. But there were some weeks (probably months) where I didn’t care for the editing part at all. Re-reading my own words, day after day after day. Deciding what went where and what sounded better. Should it be “Cole went with the two” or “the two went with Cole”?

Sentences in this book—arbitrary ones on page 178 or 212 or 39, that a reader will glance over as it were nothing, were rewritten painstakingly four or five or twenty times.

And that all gets in your head. It’s hard to escape. On my long walks I’d think about what I had edited the day before—and not unusually with a feeling that I had not done my best work. And then spend an hour redoing what I had done before attempting to get into the headspace of what the next part to edit was.

A grind, I tell you.

But I got there. Slow and steady, I did it. I turned over Page 383 yesterday and looked at the last line of my novel and smiled. That singular moment of relief felt worth all the hard days to get here. Plus now I can say that I wrote and edited my novel—the first without the second almost seems like a foolish errand. Especially the way I wrote my first draft. It actually feels like a real book now.

So does that mean the whole thing is done? Yes and no. It’s now officially a second draft, and that’s good. And it’s a whole lot more show-able than it was on the first draft. But there’s still some tidying up to do.

Next I’ll work on the novel’s first 50 pages. This is the part I’ll send out to agents to gauge interest in helping to find publishers. Any interested parties?

The novel: The Horatians follows four characters through the rise of a fictional start-up—a mapping app that lets users earn cryptocurrency. As the startup succeeds, adopting the Silicon Valley idea of growth at all costs, the relationships start to turn bitter and leaves the characters and reader questioning whether it was all worth it.

Oh, and here’s that gelato!

post editing gelato