I’ve just finished the first draft of my second novel and I’m fairly pleased with the result. Now it’s off to the beta readers, then more revision, then off to my critique partners, then more revision–and repeat.
I came across this Irving quote this morning as I was putting together a handout for the parents of my young writers club members and it sang to me on more than one level. Just like a novel, life is one great, unfinished manuscript, one that we spend a lot of time trying to perfect and never quite achieve. Unlike an actual manuscript, however, we can’t so easily erase our “shitty first drafts“.
But…we can revise. We can improve. We can choose better, stronger, kinder words, and show our feelings through action instead of dialogue. We can change our actions if they don’t ring true for our character. (Or for the character we wish to be.) We can cut out those characters who don’t bring value to our story, or worse, turn it into horror or tragedy. Likewise, we can give those quirky or unassuming characters a more prominent place in our plot. Maybe we can’t delete that first draft, but we can certainly go on to write a new one.
Life is full of plot points that go nowhere, subplots that take over our main theme, heroes and villains and spunky sidekicks that jump off the page–sometimes unexpectedly. Through it all, we keep on writing our story–living one moment after another, revising when necessary.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally knocked off my shitty first draft and sent my novel to a few beta readers for feedback. In the meantime, I’ve noticed several places I’ve screwed up–and I’m not even talking about the typos that run rampant throughout the draft! I accidentally left a chapter out when I compiled everything. I reversed two other chapters. When I changed up the plot, it made some previous characters and events irrelevant or nonsensical–but I forgot to rewrite those passages or edit those characters. My poor beta readers–they’re probably trying to figure out a way to tell me my novel makes as much sense as the Kardashians’ fame.
In short, I seem to have made a mess of it. *Sigh* Please pass the wine!
But it’s okay–because the important thing is, I got through the first draft. And I’m now moving on to the second one. The feedback continues to come in from my beta readers, feedback that is critical and oh so appreciated. For example, without Melanie, I would not have realized that my male protagonist’s hair “curled around the tips of his ears” no less than three times. Maybe I should just give him a haircut and be done with it!
Revising is, I’ve discovered, much more painful and more deserving of sweet libations than just plunking the words down on the paper to begin with. But it’s a good kind of pain, like the way your muscles ache after an intense workout. (I wouldn’t know that firsthand, but I’ve heard…) And revising means you’ve achieved something; you have to have written in order to revise, and that’s no small accomplishment.
So please excuse me while I crack open this Flying Dog Dogtoberfest Marzen. I’ve got a chapter to rewrite.