Thursday, January 28, 2010

Clearing Out My Vision

Yeah, I know.  The post title sounds like I need to get new contacts.  That's not what I'm talking about though. First off, I don't wear contacts. Twenty twenty vision, thank you very much.

Second, I'm talking about writing.

Sometimes, you get so caught up in the story that you're writing that you almost become willfully blind about it.  Yeah, the words may have rolled easily from your brain onto the page, but you can't really see the whole picture when you're writing that first draft.  I know I can't. Building a good story is like baking a great loaf of homemade bread--you have to let the dough rest for a while so that it can rise to its fullest potential.  Something I'm noticing a lot in manuscripts from new writers (and even some not so new writers like myself) is that overwhelming urge to rush that story into the oven, to serve--continuing my culinary metaphor--a half-baked loaf of bread.

Let me explain.

Once you've written that first draft, put it away. Don't immediately turn around and start editing it.  Let it sit for a few days. Write something else; outline a new project or revise an old one.  Once that daily dose of the completed story wears off from you, take the first draft back out.  Go to your favorite reading chair--someplace away from where you work--sit down and read what you've written. Read it like, well, a reader would. Someone other than you who might have come across the story in a bookstore.  Don't make notes on it, don't start editing with your red pencil.  Just sit down and read all the way through without stopping.

Then, you need to come face to face with what you've written.

Is it enjoyable? Did it hold your interest? (Here's a hint: if your fingers start itching to rearrange sentences, the answer to these first two questions is 'no.') Is the main character credible.  Do you like him or her? Do you care about what happens to her? Is the conflict tense? Is it easy to figure out the solution to? (especially important for mysteries.  If you send me a mystery and I peg the bad guy within the first few pages of his introduction to the story, then it ain't much of a mystery if you know what I mean.)

You have to be totally honest with yourself. If you're not, you're not doing yourself any favors.  You'll send your poor manuscript out to someone like me who will give you all the honesty you never wanted. A writer has got to teach themselves not only to take the cold, hard facts an editor or agent would, but to recognize those flaws first and correct them.  If you have even the smallest niggling doubt about how something is working out, don't wreck your story's future and send it out.  Keep it at home, work on it some more, entrust it to some critical (and brutally honest) eyes other than your own.  Learn to not only accept criticism, but to yearn for it.

Clear out your vision.  Sure, it's your baby but you have to be able to look at your baby with wide open eyes and say, "You know--I don't think it's ready yet." Then take it back to your desk, open the file back up and work on it some more.

Before you think I'm just spouting off advice because I think I'm entitled to, let me correct you.  I'm spouting off this advice to myself more than anyone else.  I am not infallible.  As a matter of fact, I have numerous, grievous flaws as a writer.  And every time I think I have one hell of a story and get excited about shopping it around, I've sent it out too soon and watched it die beneath a pile of rejections and a surplus of 'unfortunatelys' in my inbox.

Trust me. I know of what I speak. Don't make the same mistakes I make--do better than me. Clear out your vision about your manuscript.  It's a hell of a lot easier to do that before you send the story out than to try and disinter it when it's almost--but not quite--too late.

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