I've heard so many writers be like, "I'll go through seven drafts of this book before I send it out," and I've always been like, "Why? What are you doing? What changes?"
But with this book I finally understand. Because although I don't exactly work in drafts (I just keep working from the same Scrivener document), I'm now doing my fourth major revision of this novel. And my "major" I mean a revision involving cutting at least a fourth of the book, and rewriting most of the rest. My "deleted scenes" folders now have 100k words between them, and that doesn't count the scenes that're still in the book, but which I've rewritten so many times that they're functionally new.
In fact, halfway through this current revision, I was like, "Something's wrong here." And I took a step back from the book and was like, "Damn, the stakes are way too low. This shit is boring." And I went back to re-revise. Which meant that the end of the book was still from the two revisions ago, the middle was from the last revision, and the beginning was different too! So many different versions of the story were jammed into one that my head was spinning.
But actually no, because I've gotten much better at holding the whole story in my head. It's gotten to the point where if I have an idea I'm able to go through the whole book in a few hours and identify exactly where I need to change things in order to have that idea make sense.
Still it's exacting work. What's weird is to spend four hours working on the book, and to know that during that time I worked pretty hard, but the book is still no longer or shorter than it was. What's weird is to constantly have to be telling myself, just so I can keep it clear, exactly what the story is that I'm trying to tell, and then to realize that the story is changing, just a little bit, each day.
When you revise, there're moments when you're working on such a miniature level: working on one character or on one strand of the book. But then you constantly need to telescope out and be like, "How does this contribute to the story that I'm telling?" And it's not an easy thing.