Thursday, April 5, 2012

Writer Weightlifting

 
“I always did well on essay tests. Just put everything you know on there, maybe you’ll hit it. And then you get the paper back from the teacher and she’s written just one word across the top of the page, “vague.” I thought “vague” was kind of vague. I’d write underneath it “unclear,” and send it back. She’d return it to me, “ambiguous.” I’d send it back to her, “cloudy.” We’re still corresponding to this day … “hazy” … “muddy”…”
 
~ Jerry Seinfeld (Sein Language Bantam Books: 1993)



I've always loved this piece by Seinfeld. It never gets old. I think this is how we sometimes feel when we've completed a manuscript and it's time to hit the editing button. From the suggestions of  CPs or betas or editors, pointing out our areas of "unclear" and "hazy", we get an opportunity (yes, opportunity) to strengthen our characters, our conflicts and resolutions, our story.
 

At a workshop I attended, Ralph Fletcher shared his original "final draft" of the PB Hello, Harvest Moon. I liked it. Then, he shared the letter he received from the editor at the publishing house after they reviewed it. OUCH! I was shocked that a writer like Ralph Fletcher could get spanked like that. There were 18 separate comments - two of them were positive. After we all recovered from the shock of this revelation, we read the published version of Hello, Harvest Moon. Some of my favorite parts were missing, but I had to admit that the story is much stronger with the revisions.

No writer, however brilliant, should think revisions aren't necessary. Therefore, we should think of the ugly, editing monster as writer weightlifting, making our story stronger with every tiring repetition.

How do you feel about writer weightlifting? 
Do you approach editing as work or as an opportunity?

14 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

It's so true that revising helps. This last revision I had to be honest with myself about the word count being too long for a MG book and delete some of those well written but unnecessary scenes. And the pace is so much better. At least I hope so.

Kimberlee Turley said...

If I did everything right the first time, then I wouldn't have any opportunities to grow in my writing and eventually I might get lazy as an author.

I dislike books that feel unedited so I don't mind revising, and every time the story has become stronger because of it.

It really is like weight lifting, because if you get lax about it, it causes lean muscles. (And when ti comes to body building, this can lead to unwanted flab!)

Old Kitty said...

I am totally for good editors making your stories all the better - and they do know what they're doing or else they won't be editors! So yay - sometimes it hurts but it's all for the good!! Take care
x

Karen Harrington said...

Having gone through this process myself, both for books and speeches, I thank my lucky stars that I've had great editorial input. It not only strengthens the current work, but helps with all future pieces, too. (Love the Seinfeld anecdote!)

Barbara Watson said...

Because I've seen it come to life, I know revision makes writing beautiful and strong. But it's such. hard. work. And sometimes you do cut your favorite parts.

When I'm drafting a first draft, I also remind myself that first drafts can suck--BECAUSE of revision.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

What an awesome story.

Theresa Milstein said...

Oh, imagine 18 comments, and only 2 of them positive. Yikes. But the point is to make us better. Great reminder. Thank you.

Diane Estrella said...

Love that Jerry quote. Too funny. Never will everyone like everything we have to offer, right??!?!?! :O)

Mary Aalgaard, Play off the Page said...

I giggled at the Seinfeld quote. It's true, we need other eyes and perspective for our creative work.

Here's another one: misty

Play off the Page

Elana Johnson said...

This is so true! What a great post, a great reminder that we're not brilliant from the gate. We may have moments, but still, it's vague.

Also, I love Jerry Seinfeld!

Jemi Fraser said...

Great story! I think it helps to know great writers go through this too!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Love the quote and the story! They are both a great reminder to keep on writing, and be thankful for good editors.

Renee Taprell said...

You can never underestimate a good writing weight lifting session. Thank you for putting a name and image to the painful and sometimes strenuous task of editing/redrafting.

I'm flexing my muscles on a complete manuscript over hall.

Great post!

Ishta Mercurio said...

I love editing, actually. Drafting is really tedious for me, but magic happens in the editing. :-)

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