Have you ever been told to think about what your future self would say to you?
I’ve never actually received this advice, but I’ve heard it given, usually to young people who are facing important challenges or decisions. I suppose people who give this advice do so because it’s worked for them.
Me, I’ve always been a little skeptical about being able to predict what my future self would say about much of anything. So, I’m more inclined to rely on my present instinct, and on the advice of family, friends, mentors, and colleagues, when I’m up against a tough or complicated moment in life.
Recently, however, I’ve had the very interesting experience of speaking to my past self. Revising Eolyn for the second edition became just that: A dialogue with the author I used to be, five (and more!) years ago when we first published the novel.
Here’s some interesting trivia: The second edition of Eolyn is about 40 pages shorter than the first. I’m proud of this, and somewhat surprised. I mean, I knew one of my goals was to turn out a tighter manuscript. But 40 pages?? I definitely exceeded my own expectations.
Not all of that is due to a reduction in word count. I did shave about 6000 words off the second edition. That sounds like a lot, but when you’re looking at a manuscript of 120k, it’s not really. You’d be surprised how many unnecessary “the’s” can be found in one story. And like many authors, I have a tendency to use more words than I need to get a point or an action across. Example:
“He turned and clenched his fists” could be written more simply as “He clenched his fists.” (“Turning” in general is a wasted action in stories; I try to delete the word wherever I find it.)
There were, of course, entire scenes that got the ax. But this didn’t always affect word count, as I wrote several new scenes for the story as well. Still, 6000 words is 6000 words. If we assume about 250 words per page, that accounts for about 24 pages of the manuscript.
What about the other 16?
Well, here’s the interesting part. Those 16 pages can be accounted for, almost precisely, by the consolidation of chapters. The first edition of Eolyn had about 60 chapters; the second edition has 45. The Battle of Aerunden alone comprised about half a dozen chapters; all have now been collapsed into one. If you estimate half a page of white space at the beginning and end of each chapter, that means 15 blank pages have simply been taken out of the book. No fiddling with the word count necessary.
Working with my past self has been a positive experience, all in all. There were passages that I thought needed changing or deleting that Past Me fought vigorously to defend. Other places where Past Me was uncertain, but Present Me was able to tell her, “No, that’s a strong moment after all. Leave it as it is.”
The best, of course, was when we came to spots that Past Me was never really satisfied with, and Present Me was able to propose an exciting and workable solution. We are both particularly happy about new scenes for certain characters, such as Corey and Renate, and the overall tightened look and feel of the prose.
All in all, I have to admit I’ve enjoyed working with Me. Narcissistic, I know. But Past Me, while a little nervous about my judgement of her style, was open to change and willing to work hard to polish up an already well-polished story. And Present Me was happy to see that her first novel, written all those years ago, has withstood the test of time, even under the eyes of her own worst critic (Me).
After all these years, Eolyn continues to be an engaging story. While we found many places that benefited from tweaking, at the end of the day, the most important thing I was able to say to Past Me was this: “You’ve written a worthy novel. Take pride in your work. You deserve it.”
That was a very nice thing to hear.