Friday, July 1, 2011

On To Revisions!

I love the synchronicity of the writing community. Yesterday, I finished the rough draft of the next Darkover book, The Children of Kings, and today writer and editor Laura Anne Gilman writes on the Book View Cafe blog on . . . revisions!

Revising is not a new process for me, but I always welcome new ways of looking at it. "The Practical Meerkat," as Gilman calls herself, offers humor as well as her own perspective. I love her concept of "Draft Zero," a pre-editorial, adolescent version of the work (bones good, skin spotty, no table manners to speak of) and a "Submission Draft" (ready to leave home for college, thinks she knows everything).

I find that way of thinking more helpful than "first, second...," which promotes comparison and competition. I've wrestled with this demon over the years. I'd hear another writer talk about sending off a lightly-polished first draft and selling it and I'd feel pathetic. A truly hopeless case. I did not dare let even my critique group see my drafts at that stage. I'd castigate myself by counting drafts, as if that were a measure of my ability or the quality of my work.

The truth is, as I have said before, that the only draft that counts is the one that ends up on your editor's desk. We're all different, and each story has its own journey to completion. Gilman says, and I could not agree with her more, "When discussing the pre-editorial version, there is no one ‘right’ answer. You do whatever it takes, however many tries it takes."

Over the years -- I've been selling professionally since 1982 -- and much to my astonishment, my rough drafts have improved slightly. For one thing, I reached a point where I was selling novels on proposal, and that meant writing synopses, and that forced me to come up with a coherent description of what I intended to do. I did not, of course, follow them exactly (or, sometimes, at all) but at least I'd inserted a step in which I had a chance of eliminating the more insanely stupid ideas. For another thing, years of critiquing other people's stories eventually gave me some approximation of an editor's eye, so that when I started to write something awkward and ungrammatical, I'd catch myself before I put it down (as opposed to in a subsequent draft). So if there's hope for me, there's hope for everyone.

I'd love to see us stop comparing externals, like what draft we're on or how many revisions it takes to get a story into marketable shape, and focus more on helping one another discover our own creative rhythms. That way, we can learn from and be inspired by one another while remaining true to that special voice that is ours alone.

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