I. Write On

14 03 2007

It is becoming obvious to me (through beta readers, and various other critiques) that I tried to slam the trunk lid on TTG way too soon. It is understandable I suppose. When you finish a story, there is an almost overwhelming desire to get it out on the market. You did all that work! You sweated blood! You cried a few tears! You sweated tears and cried blood!

But as I am learning, finishing the first rough draft is really only the beginning of a much more complicated process–the process of editing the manuscript into some form that might actually convince an editor to take it on, and a reader to read it.

As I see it, there are three main stages to writing a book. First is the creation stage. This is the stage in which the writer comes up with the idea, the characters, the setting, and the various conflicts that will propel the story forward toward some climactic conclusion. I see now that I have all my life put an undue amount of importance on this initial phase. I’ve always felt that once I had a rough draft complete I was essentially done, except for a spell checking and removing a few extra commas here and there. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The second stage, editing, is in fact the most important part of the process. And not in the least bit fun, I might add. It occurs in two sub-stages (for me, at least): story editing, and line editing. In the story edit, I go through and strengthen all of the major story elements: plot, characterization, setting, and so forth. I go through and cut scenes that don’t work, or that don’t add anything to the story. I revise scenes that need to be there but are poorly written, or are written from the wrong pov, or that lack certain elements that later scenes will require (foreshadowing, clues, hints, misdirection). And finally, I have to add scenes that are needed to make the ending work, because the way a story actually ends is seldom (if ever) the way that I thought it would end while I was writing the first draft. With all of the major story elements in place, at least to my satisfaction (and with the understanding that one comment from a beta reader could easily cause me to have to go back and completely rewrite the whole blasted thing), I move on to the line edit. This is a brutal process of going through the manuscript sentence by sentence and checking it for proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. As well, I have to make sure that the sentence hasn’t been written in a passive voice, that I haven’t made any “commonly confused with” errors (its/it’s, their/there/they’re, and so on), and a second pov check to make sure that I’m not head-hopping. Only when the manuscript has been edited in this manner can I save it to a file and call it complete.

The third stage is the point at which I craft a query letter and synopsis. This is arguably the most important stage because however brilliant the edited manuscript may be; an editor will never see it (or portions thereof) if he or she is not first swayed by the query and/or synopsis. And I write several synopses; one page, two pages, and five pages, to cover a wider variety of submission situations. All of this goes into the file with the manuscript.

I suppose submitting the materials for editorial review would comprise a fourth stage, but that seems obvious enough. It’s largely a matter of researching the intended publisher, making the required trips to the post office, and keeping accurate records of where everything is.

With all of this in mind, I return to the subject of my YA novel. I have considered this project complete several times, only to find myself returning to it because I had skimped during the editing stage. This is particularly frustrating for me as I am a rather linear person. I like to begin a project, work hard on it until it is complete, and then pack it all neatly away and “turn it in.” I am nearly a third of the way into my next novel, in the rough draft stage, and I have been very frustrated at the frequent interruptions from my previous novel. As well, it has occurred to me that I will have to write and publish short stories in order to give myself some sort of track record to present to a prospective agent or publisher. The workload (and the confusion) has become overwhelming. The quality of all my work suffers when I try to work in this scatterbrained manner.

The result is that I have had to shelve everything except TTG. I am not going to take one step forward until I have satisfied myself that I have completed all three stages (specifically the editing stage) of this novel. Obviously, an editor or an agent could request further revisions, but that is part of a different process. To get there, I have to have a point at which I can snap the briefcase closed and call it done. Without that feeling of doneness, I can’t possible move on to the next project.




One response

15 03 2007

I’ve been nodding my head so much at this entry that I don’t know which I look like more, a pigeon or a bobble-head.

That’s what I love about my critique group. The folks there are good at letting me know where I’ve gone astray. And I, of course, return the favor.

Good luck with all the slogging, and keep on keepin’ on…

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