Chez Shaffner

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On Revising.. and revising.. and revising again...



For six hours yesterday, I revised something whose oldest draft has three years' dust on its pages. Some sentences in that piece have been re-written twenty times, and none have escaped the red pen. If any sentences today resemble their first-draft form, it is the result of being revised and re-revised into that state.

I thought I had trimmed every darling, slashed all extraneous words, tightened my phrasing, and sharpened my adjectives. Ha!

Again and again, I have fleshed out my characters, added details to stengthen thin scenes, subtracted details to make long scenes read more smoothly, until I was sure I was done. Nope.

I have run the spell-check two dozen times, at a minimum, and chosen to "ignore once" the same incidences of poetic license forty times over. Those squiggly green lines in Microsoft Word drive me crazy.

Entire characters have been deleted and new ones added in their stead. The antagonist's name has changed four times. Thanks to my indecision on that key point, I have learned find & replace is far from fool-proof; I'm still redacting references to his former monikers.

Two reams of multi-purpose paper have been recycled on account of these measly 7,000 words.

The story has been revised to stand alone, revised to be a novel chapter, and revised again to stand alone.

In its pages, my humble protagonist, has eaten lunch. No--breakfast. No--lunch. No--breakfast AND lunch. No--breakfast. No--cut the eating. Who wants to read about scrambled eggs, anyway.

The story has worn five different titles.

In older forms, it was workshopped, submitted, and rejected. The Playboy rejection slip, approximately the size of a postcard, is my favorite.

Three years after its first incarnation, I think it's close to done. Or, perhaps more precisely, I'm ready to set it aside for a while..at least two weeks.

You know it's bad when Nature taunts you, as she did yesterday afternoon. As summer spat its last gasps, we were blessed with Mostly Sunny, Eighty Degrees. Down to the swimming pool I went, a pile of drafts in tow. This story, marred already by a first round of edits in red ink, sat atop the stack.

Being a Tuesday in September and all, the pool was empty. I selected my deck chair, laid beach towels across the vinyl, shed my flips, and pulled the papers from my messenger bag. I donned ear-buds and scrolled through the iPod menu. Música... Álbumes... I chose Sea Change by Beck, which I haven't heard in about a year.

At that instant, a gust of wind swirled through the courtyard. The loose pages of my draft riffled away, across the patio, toward the pool. I stomped three sheets, secured the pile.

Reluctantly, I peered over my shoulder toward the swimming pool. Atop the turqouise water floated twenty pages. Whether I had planned an afternoon swim or not, I was going in the water.

Fortunately, and somewhat to my surprise, the toner held up to chlorinated water. I stuck the damp pages to a vacant deck chair and laid one of my beach towels across them. An hour later, they were crispy, misshapen, but readable. Even those red marks from the prior round of edits remained.

I took them in my hands, gripping tightly, and read through again, each sentence twice, redlining anything that made me stumble, scratch my chin, or look toward the sky. Last night, those nits and redactions flowed through my fingers. Once more, I printed those pages, and loaded them into the binder labeled "final draft." It's about time.

If I think too long about how many hours I have spent on these 7,000 words alone, the word "depressing" comes to mind. But that's the nature of the craft. Is the story better today than it was yesterday? Yes. Is it better than it was 30 months ago (!) when it first fell victim to reviewers critique? Hell yes. Is it Playboy material? Unlikely. Perhaps another round of revisions is necessary...

For now, that next round will have to wait. I rose this morning at 7:45am and sat down to my keyboard to write the next revision-worthy episode.

For any writers out there, while I was adding links to key pieces of the above rant, I came across the following interesting blog about "killing your darlings". She makes some great points!

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