I thought about how I had been revising my book. For the most part, my last few drafts involved me reading through sections, identifying problems and then going back to fix those problems. Sometimes, I'd also scan through random sections and cut out words or details that weren't really contributing to the story I was trying to tell.
To me, this revision strategy is a backward movement. I don't mean backward in a bad way, but this revision involves hindsight--reading a section, and then going back into it to fix the problems. There is nothing wrong with backward revision. In fact, I'd argue that much of the time it is essential. But, something that I had been ignoring was the opposite strategy: forward revisions.
Forward revisions involves starting from the beginning of the story, or at the beginning of a long section of the story, and moving through it forwards, fixing things on the fly as you go along. This is what I did in my latest draft, and it really helped me fix the problem Ellen had identified. I started from page 1, and I read through the book quickly, all the way to the end. If something caught me--and awkward sentence or strange grammar--I fixed it quickly, backstepped a good ways, and then continued to race through the book forwards again.
My book was about 65,000 words long when I gave it to Ellen. I felt that it was focused, coherent, and told the story I wanted to tell. I thought is was pretty much done. However, after my forward revision, which did little aside from adding extra words here and there to make transitions work, my book ended up being over 67,000 words. As a result of these extra words, I find that my prose flows much more smoothly from one scene to the next. I also think my voice comes through more clearly.
The key to forward revisions is to go through the book quickly. I think this is an effective way to get natural sentence rhythms flowing again, and it allows you to see the book more as a whole than when you move slowly and dissect each scene. In a similar way that an outline gives you a quick overview of the structure of your story, racing through the prose quickly gives you an overview of the prose style of your story. It's an important last step, one that I had neglected because I was focusing so much on bigger elements of my book. AND, for those of us who fear that we may have lost the original spontaneity of the story by overworking it, I think this forward revision can bring some of that back.
Questions: Do all of you do this sort of fast, forward revision? Do you think it's important? If you don't do this, is there another approach you use for getting those final touches done on your manuscript?
Additional Question: Why didn't I get a MacArthur Genius Grant?