Writer's Craft Article
In this three month, in-depth series, we're going to go over what could be considered the grunge work in building a cohesive story. Revising, editing, and polishing require a little or a lot of writing elbow grease to finish the job and bring forth a strong and beautiful book.
Once a builder has completed the house, interior painting, staining, and caulking are done, with carpeting as the last step. At that point, interior design becomes the priority. Room arrangements, color schemes, and window treatments, based on knowledge of what's available in the owner's price range and what's appropriate for each use, become the finishing touches. Everything that's done is a layer in develop the house into a home. It's in the final decorations that a solid house truly becomes a thing of beauty and a source of pride. Most new homeowners are dying to throw a party and show it off.
In writing, we have a similar layering. We can created layers through the creation of story folders, brainstorming, researching, pre-writing, outlining, and writing the first draft. (Imagine if you skip more than one of those steps! Your book is missing all those layers, and you'll definitely notice that it lacks some texture, quality, and strength as a result.)
Now we'll talk about the layers of strength and beauty that are added to a story through revising, editing, and polishing the first draft of the book. During this time, we rearrange, punch up the word colors of the book, clarify and beautify with the finishing touches that make it shine. Once you've finished this step, you'll be dying to send it out to those brave readers willing to take on the assessment of an unpublished work--those who will hopefully love it as much as you do. Even if they don't, they may help you see the strengths and weaknesses more clearly, and you can make the necessary changes before you begin submitting to publishers and agents.
The stages involved with this layer include:
2. Involving critique partners
3. Setting the final draft aside
4. Final editing and polishing
By this point, you may have already completed an outline (hopefully, a cohesive one) that you've utilizing in writing the first draft of the book. Between these steps, you've hopefully let your story rest quietly on a shelf, ideally for a month or more each time. Stephen King calls this a "recuperation time", and it really is, considering the blood, sweat, and tears you've expended. When you take the manuscript down again to begin revisions, followed by editing and polishing, "you'll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It's yours, you'll recognize it as yours...and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else...This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. ..."
Writing and revision are two completely separate processes that require different mind-sets, and therefore shouldn't be done at the same time. While writing a book, a simple need to polish words, sentences, or paragraphs can become a complete rewrite. This isn't a productive way to work when you're attempting to finish the first draft of the book. An unfortunate side effect of revising, editing, and polishing your story while you're still writing it is that you don't get the necessary distance from it in order to be able to revise effectively. You need to enter the revision phase with fresh, objective eyes once the first draft of the book is finished. Only then can you see the story as it really is. I love what Stephen King says about this process: "I'm rediscovering my own book, and usually liking it. That changes. By the time a book is actually in print, I've been over it a dozen times or more, can quote whole passages, and only wish the damned old smelly thing would go away. That's later, though; the first read-through is usually pretty fine."
If you're building a house, you wouldn't start painting before all the walls were up. You wouldn't put in carpet before the plumbing and wiring were done because you'd end up having to tear out the carpeting in order to get the necessary plumbing and wiring in where they should be. Paint and carpet are the polish of a completed room; they're final steps in dressing it up. In the same way, writers should concentrate on finishing a full draft of the book before endeavoring to do any revision, editing, or polishing.
Next week, we'll start the process of applying writing elbow grease with Stage 1: Revising.
Karen S. Wiesner is the author of Cohesive Story Building, Volume 2 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection
Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.