I so wanted to add In The Rain to that blog title, but since it isn't raining anywhere near here, it didn't really work. That's a writer's lot in life, isn't it? Having to sacrifice cleverness for clarity. Anywhoo...
My Lovely Agent and I were talking on the phone the other day about revising, and how difficult it can be for newer writers to understand the different between truly revising a manuscript and merely polishing it. Since I’m up to my elbows in revisions this week and it’s a subject that is currently near and dear to my heart, I thought I’d talk about it here.
I totally cringe now at some of the earlier projects I submitted to publishers. Looking back, I can so clearly see how NOT ready they were. They were first drafts that I’d polished, then submitted. And I think this is very common early on in our apprenticeship. We don’t know what don’t know, yet, if that makes any sense. We can’t know what knowledge we’re lacking, because we most likely haven’t been exposed to it yet.
Now some people are very, very good at polishing as they go. But this isn’t initially the case for most of us. For most of us, our first drafts are most definitely the $hi!!y first drafts Anne Lamott talks about in Bird by Bird. I think that’s one of the first things we need to recognize; that first drafts are simply everything we think we know about the story so far. That’s why I prefer the term discovery draft, because so often we learn so much in the writing of that draft, that it changes the story in the writing of it.
And that’s where revision or rewriting comes in. That’s when we step back and pull out our analytical tools and try to see objectively what is working in the story and should be kept, and what is lacking in the story. That’s when we check to see if we’re using the wrong voice, or if the structure is flawed or we need an antagonist of some sort. It’s where we can see that there isn’t enough conflict, or that the character isn’t solving his own problems or we’ve built to a huge climax, then undercut it in some way.
Only when all those issues have been ironed out, then we can work on polishing, which is smoothing out language, line editing, etc.
Now I’m going to put a disclaimer in here because I know a couple of my blog readers (Hi Katy!) do indeed work all this stuff out as they go. And the more I write under contract, the better I get at doing that myself. But for the purpose of this discussion, we’re going to talk in drafts because I think that’s a more universal place for most writers to start.
So tomorrow I’m going to talk about Macro Revising—the big picture things we need to look at in our first draft, then after that I’ll talk about Micro Revising—the small picture things. But today I'll leave you with the single most important revising tip I know:
The best (perhaps only?) way to gain any objectivity about your own work is through distance. If you put can put your manuscript aside for a month, you will be shocked, shocked I tell you, at how many of the macro flaws are now visible. Yes, finishing a manuscript is the best feeling in the world. So celebrate. Call all your friends and family. Break out the champagne. Go out to dinner. But do not send the mss off to an agent or editor yet. Don't do it. Wait at least a month. You will be SO glad you did. Pinkie swear.
And I apologize that I got this post up a little later in the morning than usual, but after yesterday’s typo disaster, I thought it prudent…