Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What the Heck Was I Doing?: The Torment of Rewriting

I've developed a couple of quirks since deciding that writing was really my thing:
  1. I don't let anyone see the rough draft.
  2. I yell at myself while I'm marking the rough draft for revision.
I have a number of perfectly valid reasons for both of these. Once upon a time, when I was a young an naive writer in high school, I would just bang out a story and consider it done, and then wonder why none of the publishers I sent my stories to could perceive my genius.

Yes.

I sent out rough drafts.

Take all the time you need.

A couple *coughdozencough* rejections later, I learned about a wonderful thing called editing, and a further, even more wonderful thing called self-editing.

You mean I can refine my work without showing it to someone else?

Yes, which was awesome because I'd realized, after taking a week or two for the endorphin rush to wear off, that nearly every rough draft I'd written in the mania of I have a story and I must write it down and show the world was utter dreck. Redeemable dreck, but dreck nonetheless. I became ashamed that I would in all honesty consider showing this to something else, which was both disheartening and a step in the right direction because with the degree in English I'd earned in the meantime I could pick out the problems.

Most word processing programs have a feature by which you can highlight areas and leave notations, and I use that in spades when I go through my rough drafts. In one of my current manuscripts I actually left the note, "This doesn't make sense. What the hell were you thinking?" I have become my own harshest critic, which is both good and bad.

It's good because a critical eye (simmered gently over the course of two weeks to a month) allows me to pick out the problems both big and small so I can fix them before anyone else sees what an embarrassment my rough draft is. I've found an affordable editor, but I don't even have to send her my rough draft this way. That's a real load off my mind.

It's bad because, while putting on the Simon Cowell level of snarkiness with my own work can be fun, it can get schizophrenic very easily, and if I'm not careful there's a chance I might give up on the manuscript altogether and never look at it again. Instead, I try to put suggestions in my notes rather than only criticisms, even if I have to chainsaw out an entire scene and rewrite it from scratch. Even if the note says simply "wat", I know that something that seemed so clear in the drafting phase has fallen out of focus. I've been known to switch plot points midstream while drafting, so this helps keep me on course.

Fortunately, after doing this a few times with several different manuscripts, I've happily fallen into the habit of self-editing. My rough draft need never see the light of day, let alone the desk of a prospective publisher. I can send a version I'm moderately happy with to my beta readers without worrying that it's a horrible mess. I still let my inner critic dance all over my rough drafts, but with a firm leash so she doesn't discourage me from writing altogether. In the end, this has made me a more confident writer, rather than one living in a state of "oh god all my stuff is crap I'll never get published what am I thinking".

I'm still not showing anyone else my crappy first drafts, though. Someday I may make a bonfire out of them.