A novel as it’s being written goes through cycles of expansion and contraction. It starts with expansion, an elaboration on a sentence or the germ of an idea. What follows the first rough draft is a drawing inward; much is thrown out and what’s left is examined, becomes the new starting point or points. Structures and patterns are found, ideas or themes or characters clarified. Those patterns then applied, the new algorithms set in motion. The manuscript breathes – an exhale, followed by an inhale, followed by an exhale. And so on.
This breathing can happen within a single day, as it’s been happening these last days before deadline (tomorrow). We start the morning by reading over what we worked on the day before. We reign in what’s overwritten, move things too on-the-nose a little off the nose (inhale). We realign with the flavor of the text, the pattern of the language, slip back into the body of the writing, then carry through to the day’s new words (exhale).
We work in cycles. We – in the argot of a big internet company – move fast and break things. But then we slow down and fix what’s broken. We must, for runaway expansion leads to chaos, and total contraction leads to stasis. Both are in effect the same thing; both mean death.
So we write and edit and try to remember a most natural thing: to breathe.