CI: What is your revision process like?
JH: I try to force myself to go all the way through to the end. I feel like big changes at the roots are much better than lots of small changes at the branches. I definitely feel like every writer has their strengths and weaknesses, and I feel my strength is that I’m really flexible. I’m open to—not to doing anything, but to considering anything. So yeah, in this book, the protagonist, Arlo, came along fairly late. The structure totally changed. To me, it’s all about cutting and structure. I think pretty analytically. So if I can just get past the first draft, and start to think like a teacher of my own work, that’s helpful for me.
I'm a professor, and I spend a lot of time trying to help students improve their writing they produce for my classes. The idea of being treating your own writing the way a student's work has never occurred to me, but I think it is brilliant!
Later in the interview, Herkin says the following about getting to the end of the writing (drafting, revising) process:
JH: I will say the last five percent—getting from 95 percent to 100 percent or whatever—of getting it right, takes 90 percent of the work. And if you look at the original draft, you probably wouldn’t think it’s that different. Unless you’re a writer, or a really good reader, and you hear things. The hard sound versus the soft sound when you’re going for the soft feeling makes all the difference in the world. But a less good reader might think, really? You spent 95 percent of your time getting from there to here? And I’d be like, “Oh my god, there is such a huge difference, from there to here.” But I think a lot of people don’t notice that. Or they do notice it. They just don’t realize they notice it.
The idea that the last 5% of the process takes 90% of the effort is something that I think is so spot-on. Reading this, I felt like Harkin was putting into words things that I knew because I had felt them, but had never had put them into words myself.