It’s 8:30am. My child has been lying in his crib, smiling and gurgling at the ceiling for the last ten minutes. Now he’s gazing at me across the room while his eyes drift shut. I lovelovelove these parental moments.
Huh. Now trying to think of parental moment from the last two days that I have loveloveloved that did not involve a content child safely contained in bed while I was on my laptop. You know, one where I was actually interacting with him.
I’ll have to get back to you on that, because I’m not here today to write about him. Nor am I here to write about me – though let me pause for a minute and say thank you for the caring comments and emails sparked by yesterday’s blog. Someone whose phone number I don’t recognize even sent me a lovely text saying “thinking of you”.
(At least, it’s lovely if that came from someone I know. Otherwise it’s sort of creepy. For the time being I’m choosing to assume that it came from someone I know. How’s that for glass half full and not being unduly paranoid? Yeah.)
On a more serious note, I do not think I’m immune to post-natal depression (no woman is) but I also don’t think things are quite that dire yet. The weekend felt pretty awful but things have brightened up a bit since then. I will keep you posted.
Michael Crichton is reported to have said, “Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”
The official number of times I rewrote my latest book is three, but that doesn’t take into account all the false starts I had before I even managed to pull the first draft together.
I finished that first draft in November 2009, the day before Mike got back from a month long consultancy in Indonesia. Pretty much the minute he got home I thrust the manuscript into his hands. In retrospect, perhaps I should have waited until he was out of the jet lag zone before demanding feedback. Or perhaps I just don’t take feedback well from my nearest and dearest on my first drafts.
Mike gave me lots of useful feedback, including telling me that he didn’t have a great deal of empathy for the main character (me) because I hadn’t made myself vulnerable enough and taken him on an emotional journey.
“You come across as an interesting person,” he said. “But that is not enough to command my attention for a whole book and make me wonder, intrigued, what you’re going to do next. You need more depth. You need to take me on an emotional journey.”
I believe my graceful response to this feedback was, “You want a journey? Well you can just get back on a plane to Indonesia then.”
He was, however, right. And during the next two years and two drafts I worked hard to identify a clearer story arc, strengthen my themes, and take people on a journey. In other words, I worked to tell a story instead of just letting people in on a 70,000 word, occasionally humorous, occasionally moving, monologue.
Feedback from other people was invaluable in helping me think through these rewrites. Before attempting a third draft I farmed the book out to about ten friends and sifted through their commentary. Then I took it to the next level and had two professionals look at it (thank you Joslyne Decker and Amy Lyles Wilson – check out their websites if you’re interested in writing workshops or editorial services).
All of these external eyes helped me spot things I just couldn’t see on my own. They not only said nice things about my work (always good to hear when you’re so sick of your own book you’re in danger of starting to believe the whole thing is just a terrible waste of everyone’s time). They also pointed out where I was losing or boring the reader, indulging in narrative tangents, and where they were left wanting more or less.
It’s always a delicate balance, I find, to be open enough to editorial feedback to benefit from it without being so open that you feel compelled to rewrite your work to suit the tastes and whims of everyone who comments on it. I didn’t act on all of the comments and recommendations I received but every one of them made me think deeply, and there’s no greater gift to an author than being challenged to see their manuscript through fresh eyes.
Over to you: What do you find particularly helpful when you’re trying to take a first draft to the next level? What’s your editing process like?
“The real contest is always between what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing. You measure yourself against yourself and nobody else.”
~ Geoffrey Gaberino ~
Want to read more about editing, particularly in the context of self-publishing? Check out the following articles over on Writer Unboxed:
- An endangered rite of passage (Keith Cronin)
- Self-published authors have great power, but are they taking responsibility? (Jane Freeman)