Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Editing Perfection

Strange to say, I'm still alive.  Had a work marathon which is why I've been strangely quiet blog-wise.  Sorry.  I'm trying to catch up on everything now and thought I should post something...

So, I'm falling back on what I'm doing, which is editing.  Mostly I'm going to be repeating things other people have told me and which to my dismay have turned out to be true.

I hate the fact that producing a finished manuscript takes so long and I suspect that as you advance from wannabe to writer to published author, it may get easier.  Or maybe not.

Once upon a time, I produced a manuscript which I edited, edited, edited and sent to an agent.  She signed me but things didn't work out.  So I sent it to another agent and she signed me.  She's a great agent and indicated that it might be time for a rewrite and I agreed.

After printing out another copy of my manuscript to work on it, I started finding...ack!...errors!  How could this be?  Two agents had signed me!  It had finaled in a few contests!  I thought it was perfect!  NOT!  I hadn't looked at it for nearly two years and when I did, I was absolutely appalled!  It wasn't horrible, but it was so totally and obviously not ready that I felt as if I had stood on the NY subway and pulled my drawers down.  I had sent this thing to two agents, they signed me, sent it to EDITORS (EDITORS, for Chris-sakes!).  Totally humiliated, I proceeded to edit it.  I'm trying to polish it now.  Really polish it.

What did I learn?  I learned that it really is true that you can't do a decent job editing until enough time has elapsed to allow you to forget what you wrote, because your mind plays little games with you and makes you see what you think ought to be there if it's fresh stuff you've just written.

I've also learned that if you can afford it, sometimes it might be worthwhile to pay a first reader (or someone) to go through a manuscript before you send it out into the wide world.  I have a great critique partner and believe me, this time around, she's probably regretting being my critique partner because I've used the heck out of her trying to polish this sucker.  If you produce a lot of material, you may find it difficult to find enough people willing to critique for free, which is why you need to keep a first reader and a few dollars in your back pocket.  Unless you are really, really good at editing your own work.  I do know writers who are, and I really envy them.  I'm afraid my mind is too eager to supply what should be there and I miss what is actually there.

The underlying thing here, though, is that those NY editors were, sadly, right to reject me when the manuscript was so far from perfect.  I'm just relieved I now have an agent willing to work with me, although again, there is a difference between an agent and a first reader/critique partner.  Your agent isn't an editor--s/he's got enough on his or her plate, so don't abuse them.

Never assume something is perfect.  Read pages out of order, or read your manuscript back to front if it helps you see the actual words on the page instead of hearing what you know ought to be there.

Hard lessons, but it's one more step closer to publication.
Oh, and thanks to my critique partner, I expect to have my manuscript completely revised (THANK YOU) and sent back to my agent within the next two weeks.  Whew.

Back to the grindstone...

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