As Ferenc Molnár, Hungarian/American playwright, director, novelist, short-story writer and journalist said,
It is perfectly okay to write garbage–as long as you edit brilliantly.
It’s a great quote – Ferenc knew what he was talking about. If you allow yourself the freedom to write garbage in your first draft, you’ve got the base steel down in words to sharpen and polish to perfection.
Easier said than done, of course. Maybe you’re a bit of a control freak (like me – or maybe that’s my Leo streak) who has to ‘work at’ releasing the flow of creativity – my silver-winged bird. But once that bird’s flying, writing is the best feeling in the world.
Equally important is the second part – editing brilliantly!
I’ll let you into a little secret. I used to send out manuscripts before they were ready – add impatience to my list of ‘bad habits to improve’!
But I bet I’m not on my Pat Malone here … go on, put your hand up, who’s ever sent off a half-baked manuscript? One that is rejected with a very nice letter talking about all the things the publisher likes about the story, but it’s just not ….mmm, right for them.
Not that I’m saying one does this knowingly – we’re not that silly are we?
More than likely you’re too close to your work – to those many thousands of words, to that brilliant character you love so much, to a plot that races around your brain while you’re meant to be listening to your partner explain how to burn a CD. (Him: But I already showed you what to do. Five times!)
That’s a normal part of the process of creating. Not a lot you can do about that, except get your good and honest writing buddies to check your story every now and then. They’ll see what you’re missing.
There’s also something else I’ve learnt, finally after twelve years of writing. It’s not complex, but not so simple to do. Practice makes it easier. It was author and editor, Penni Russon who opened my eyes. She said it to me (amongst other helpful hints in a similar vein of … Slash and burn, baby! Slash and burn!) after editing some of my latest manuscript. Her advice has been one of the most useful tips I’ve learned as a writer. Get rid of the stage directions! Yes, that’s it… GET RID OF THE STAGE DIRECTIONS.
Simple, eh? Stage directions in this case means describing every movement so that the reader is taken out of the moment – NOT GOOD! Why? Because you’re too busy trying to picture the action.
This is what happens when you’re writing the writer’s copy, when you need to aim for the reader’s copy.
Here’s what I mean… this is part of a chapter that underwent Penni’s knife.
And later, after my heavy edit…
Briny trotted along the pebbled track through the rainforest settlement. Down beside the creek, the clan’s houses of bark and mud bricks sheltered between the roots of large trees. Soft, melodic voices and cooking smells wafted through open windows, reminding her she’d missed lunch.
As Briny neared Clawfoot Betelnut’s shelter, she became more watchful. Clawfoot’s naming vine entangled a Milkwood tree beside the house, screening most the windows, except for one at the front. From this window drifted a thin, green cloud of smoke and the sound of the healer’s chanting.
What could the Clawfoot be brewing to produce that colour? Its stink was like the bitter tang of Betelnut with something sweet added to the mix. Briny shivered in mock horror and pulled a face. Thank the Five Stars, Blue Plum and Red Leaf’s house smelled of sandalwood and honey-tree blossoms.
Everything in this portion has a purpose, introducing significant information for later in the story and adding something about other characters. It’s the reader’s copy. (Won’t tempt fate by saying it’s ‘edited brilliantly’ – wait while I touch wood … my little bit of Celtic superstition).
This story has been a pleasure and a pain to edit, like them all. Now to tackle the opposite problem to submitting stories before they’re ready – not sending them at all!
If you have some great advice about how you decide if your manuscript is ready, share it with us. 🙂