I look up from my screen and find that it’s spring out there in the world: buds swelling on the cherry tree outside my office window; vivid drifts of crocuses in the parks; people crowding the tables outside cafes. A lovely surprise as I surface from more or less finishing the editing and polishing of Gardens of the Sun
. Close and concentrated work that involves cleaning up little glitches in plot and character, checking for consistency in style, making sure that sentences aren’t inside out and that they are properly stressed and that each and every one counts for something, cutting out words repeated too close to each other, and fighting the war against cliche, otherwise known as extinguishing flickering log fires
. Unless used for (usually comic) effect, cliches are a sure sign of slack writing. Prose, from Nabokovian elegance to the plain, well-wrought kind that’s sometimes called ‘transparent’ (and I’m a big fan of the latter, of guys like Robert Louis Stevenson and Elmore Leonard) should knock sparks off the reader’s imagination, surprise her, keep her guessing. But cliche-riddled prose is like white noise, or fog. You plod plod plod through it without really registering anything; it’s default fiction with a low level of ideation. Maybe the words are serviceable, but they aren’t apt
So: revise, revise, revise. Polish, polish. You never really finish a novel - you just let it go. And I’m not quite done with Gardens of the Sun
yet - it’s off to the copy editor next, and then it will come back to me, marked up and red-pencilled, and I’ll no doubt be dismayed by all the stuff I missed . . .