Revising a Novel is Banana(gram)s!

Novel revisions have been a learn-as-I-go process. And since I’ve been working on this novel for years, it’s getting harder and harder to come up with creative answers to the question “How’s the novel coming?” that sound like I am making any progress at all. So this week I started telling people that novel revisions are a little like a long game of Bananagrams*, where every tweak to the plot requires me to rearrange the whole rest of the story to accommodate the changes. In some cases I draw an ’S’, and I can slip it in at the end of the chapter without having to reorder the scenes. But a lot of times, I’m trying to work with an ‘X’, which might require me to break apart whole quadrants of the book just to get the ‘X’ nestled seamlessly into the mix. It can take quite a bit of time to make sure that I appropriately cleaned up all the word messes I made in order to fit in the new stuff.

As an inexperienced novelist, I find it difficult to calculate the return on investment for each possible change. The pure creative side of me says it doesn’t matter how long it takes—just work on the project until it feels done. But the more discerning side reminds me that “perfect is the enemy of good”. The two sides argue back and forth for a while, and with any luck both come to the conclusion that the book is not getting any better or any more sold while the brain is in a state of unchecked wavering so I’d better just get on with whatever I was doing before I tried to consider what my next move should be.

Eventually, I’m going to have to decide to be done. Given that at this moment my letter tiles are still strewn about the table and not woven into a coherent grid, I can say that moment is not quite yet. But the next time I find myself in that state, don’t be surprised to hear me yell “Bananas!”**


*In the game, you start off with 21 letter tiles randomly drawn from a pile. Players try to connect all their tiles into words in a crossword style. The first person to get their 21 letters arranged appropriately yells “Peel!” and all players take another tile out of the draw pile. Now everyone has to work the new letter into their grid, and when someone does, they yell “Peel!” and the process repeats.

**When there are no more letter tiles in the pile, the first player to get all their letters arranged into words yells “Bananas!” and wins the game.