In preparing to publish ‘Church of Golf,’ I read that it’s wise to have your manuscript reviewed and commented upon by at least 10 people. I also read that it was a really good idea to have it reviewed by a professional editor who, for a fee, would review and comment on your manuscript.
So that’s what I did.
To do so, I had to resist my instincts. I had completed what I thought was a darn good first draft in March 2014. I had been over it and over it until I was sick of my own work. It seemed tight and clear and ready for an audience to fall in line to buy a copy. (Thought to self: “Editors? I don’t need no stinking editors.”)
I have since learned that most experienced writers and editors refer to this as the ‘shitty first draft.’ Even though the author has opened a vein and put himself into his work, people with knowledge of these things expect the need for substantial changes when the author thinks he’s done. They expect your first draft to suck. They expect newbies (i.e., guys like me me) not to know these things and to have emotional difficulty learning and accepting them.
And they would be exactly right.
After having my shitty first draft reviewed by two people (David R. and Mary D., thank you ever so much), I made a trainload of changes and corrections. Then I proudly sent it off to Jack, a professional editor I found through writersdigest.com. Jack has published eight of his own moderately successful novels and lives in Los Angeles. He charges $4 per page for his services and turned my manuscript (just over 300 pages) around in just four days, which I thought was amazingly fast. (Kirkus Reviews will do the same thing but for about three times the cost.) Jack and I traded emails before he began his review. We seemed totally simpatico. I expected that Jack would praise me for the remarkable insight and pithiness woven through my novel with golden threads. What I got was a lesson in humility. His comments were mostly good ones, even though some were hard to accept. Among his comments: I started too many sentences with conjunctions. I ended too many sentences with a hyphen followed by a dependent clause. The first half of the book was too long. Excessive use of adjectives made some sections as ugly as Ernest Borgnine bent over at the waist looking for the soap he dropped in the shower. The opening scene was too flat. He didn’t like my title. The manuscript ran 130,000 words. He said that many agents and publishers are reluctant to let a first-time author see daylight with a novel much over 100,000 words. There were numerous other comments, too.
I went straight into denial. Jack’s comments had to be the product of west-coast myopia. Fortunately, that lasted only one afternoon.
Over the next week, I hardly slept. I whittled away twenty-five pages from the front half of the book and trimmed eight pages from the back half. My manuscript lost weight. I got it down to 108,000 words. I re-worded nearly every sentence that began with ‘but’ or ‘and.’ I yanked out nearly every hyphen. I deleted several scenes that didn’t seem necessary. I reworded several critical scenes to give them more impact. I erased similes and homiles that felt forced. I changed the name of some characters who were based on real people because their names were too much like the real people they resembled. I considered changing the title and ran through ideas and options, none of which seemed to work.
Then I chose a handful of friends and relatives, all of whom are dedicated readers (and several of them experienced golfers), and asked if they would review and comment on the book. I was ready for some to decline. None did. (God bless them. How did I get so lucky to be surrounded by such nice people?) They got the manuscript the first week in July. My buddy Jim S. got his written comments back to me by August 1. His comments were light and positive. He found the book funny where I hoped he would. He liked the details about Baltimore and Washington. He even liked a stray reference I made to Link Wray, a guitarist who was mildly popular in the 1950s and who inspired nearly every successful rock guitarist of the 1960s and 1970s. My friend Ki Jun raised the white flag and begged off: he had a new kid and he had a new business he was trying to get started and he couldn’t find time to finish the manuscript. He sent me comments on the first 60 pages — all positive.
My nephew William F. — at 32, the youngest of the reviewers — emailed me after he went through the manuscript the first time and said he loved it. He wanted time to read it a second time and expand on his comments. “This is going great,” I thought. My friend Diane T., a non-golfer, wrote me and said the same thing.
I’m waiting to collect comments from the other readers so I can modify and finalize my manuscript. I’m also having lots of moments where I think things like “Oh, I need to add details about Bobby Joe early in the book so readers know something about his background” or “Jeez, that scene where those two characters jump into bed might be a little too explicit.” When thoughts like that come along, I put comments into a master manuscript — a hard copy of the book where I keep details on all changes I want to make to the final draft. Once I have input from all my readers and have the details of their comments hand-written into my master manuscript, I’ll have one convenient source to find all the comments necessary to finish my revisions. Then I’ll have a not-so-shitty third draft that I hope people will enjoy reading.
The adventure continues. More to come, no doubt.