Friday night I typed the glorious words "THE END" on the last page of my current work in progress. (And thank you for asking: it's called The Real Macaw, and it involves animal welfare and the financial woes facing my fictional but not, alas, atypical Virginia town of Caerphilly.)
And as soon as I typed those glorious words--THE END!--I went off and had a small celebration.
Really small. I popped the top of a new can of Diet Coke. I posted to Facebook. I had dinner with a writer friend at Macaroni Grill.
And when bedtime came around, I printed out the last three chapters of the draft and curled up in bed to read through them. I went to bed with the satisfying feeling that those last three chapters work.
Equally satisfying was the fact that before going to sleep I had covered those three chapters with comments and corrections that would get me off to a good start on the next task: revising and polishing. Which I started on yesterday.
One of the ways I know that I've grown as a writer is that I no longer dread revising. I wouldn't go so far as to say I love doing it, but I accept it as a completely normal and absolutely inescapable part of the writing process.
Not that revision comes naturally to me. I have my fair share of writer's inertia, that tendency (or maybe it’s a need) to assume that once I've written something, it's great! And the grasshopper in me is right there saying "Yay! It's great! Time to do all those things we've been putting off till I finished the book!"
Just like the ant in the fable, the professional part of my writer's brain says, "Okay. It's great. But it needs to be greater. Let's revise."
Grasshopper brain pouts and says, "But you've been doing that iterative editing thing all along. So you don't need to revise anymore, right?"
(Iterative editing is my term for what Reed Farrel Coleman talked about in his session on revision at MWA University earlier this month. It means that you don't just write and move on; you keep going back over what you've already written, polishing and revising. On days when you're having trouble getting started, rereading and editing what you did over the last few days can get the motor going. And it means that by the time you finish the book, most of it has been slowly polished and revised into pretty good shape.)
"Yes, iterative editing is good," Ant brain says. "But it doesn't take the place of a proper revision."
"Aha!" Grasshopper brain exclaims. "To do a proper revision, you have to have a cooling off period, right? Time to cool off!"
"You cool it when you think it's finished," Ant brain says. "We know it's not."
At this point, Grasshopper brain sulks, Ant brain takes pity on it and allows it to goof off for a couple of hours, and then returns, inexorably, to the revisions. Thank goodness for Ant brain, or my books would be turned in woefully underrevised (and probably woefully late as well).
In October, I'm teaching a class on revision and polishing for the local chapter of Sisters in Crime. So now is a good time for me to test the techniques I'll be sharing with my students.
A lot of them have to do with finding ways to see your work with fresh eyes. Like reading aloud. Yes, the whole book. It's worth doing: the ear hears problems that the eyes would never see. I also like printing the book out in a very different (but very readable) typeface, grabbing a handful of red pens, and going someplace quiet that's NOT my usual workspace.
Always looking for new tools for the arsenal. If anyone has some killer self-editing advice, please share it here!
(Grasshopper brain: "Why don't we just take a break while we see what people suggest?")
(Ant brain: "No. Pick up that red pen.")