Monday, 23 August 2010

HOLD FIRE

Remember the novel? The slightly smug announcement of a finished first draft? That was some months ago, so of course a few rewrites later, it’s ready for submission, no? NO. Writing, them-what-know tell us, is rewriting. Lots of it. And at risk of repeating myself, the greatest asset you can have as a writer is a dissatisfaction with your work. It’s never finished, never good enough. It can always be made stronger. The only time you do submit it is when you’re at the stage of taking commas out, before putting them straight back in. It’s one of the most common reasons for rejection, assuming the work is of a high enough standard: an agent/publisher/editor is also looking at how much they’d have to do to with the author, how much time they’d need to spend on it.

So even after several revisions, I put the manuscript away for a week, coming back to it with fresh(ish) eyes, whereupon more anomalies, clumsy phrasing, overwriting, excessive character introspection, slips in voice, mistakes with tense, and general guff make themselves known. Remember you’re too close to the story to be dispassionate: to you it’s like a child – unique, amazing, somewhat flawed but yet still perfect. You want nothing more than to share its wonder with the world. To the person you’re submitting to, it’s one of hundreds that have landed on their desk that week.

And so, whereas I want to believe this book is the finished article, I know one more read-through will strengthen it further. And perhaps another. And…

8 comments:

Anna-Marie said...

You should get someone you don't know whose opinion you could take or leave to give it a read through (me?)

TOM J VOWLER said...

Thanks for the offer, A-M. Finding someone you trust, who will give you constructive, objective feedback is important. I've posted a couple of pieces on the subject (See Feedback under labels). I have a few readers who appraise without fear or favour, which is invaluable.

Paul said...

So very true! I sent my WIP to a prospective agent at 106,000 words and she asked me to trim it to under 100,000. I just finished doing that yesterday. Fortunately, my narrator is a bit pompous, so he had a lot of words that could be sliced out.

I think as long as the manuscript is still with me, I'll never consider it finished, or at least I'll continue to think of ways to make it even better. But when it goes off to an agent or editor, I have to "let go" of it and consider it finished (at least until the next set of requests for revisions come in).

TOM J VOWLER said...

Sounds like a good attitude, Paul. Let us know how it goes...

Simon Kewin said...

A great work of art is never finished, it's merely left. Not sure who said that, but it's very true!

It is a tricky balance. I know we do have to polish and polish, but at the back of my mind I'm always conscious of those bands that overproduce their work and make it very bland. And then they throw that away and release their first, rough take and it sounds fantastic, despite the mistakes ...

TOM J VOWLER said...

I like that, Simon.

I agree that others 'arts' can be over produced, but, personally, I've never thought this applies to writing. I know of so much work rejected that could have been strengthened by the author taking that little bit longer.

PrincessJ said...

Just started following you. Really enjoying reading your posts.
That bit about taking the commas out of your work then putting them straight back in again is still cracking me up as I write. So true!
Will seek out your work. Thanks.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Thanks for stopping by, PJ.