Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Revision is Like Nailing a Song on the Piano

Piano Player by Michael & Inessa Garmash

"Early drafts and wrong choices in a story are like the manure spread on the field so that the right choices can later flower." ---Margaret Bechard, YA novelist

Recently, I finished the first draft for my YA novel. I've been busy revising my manuscript. To revise effectively, I need to remove my affection for my writing and try to re-examine it from the perspective of someone else, be it an agent, editor, or critical reader. I toss out the parts that serve me but not the story.  I review my story's character development, plot, voice, dialogue, and setting, and then I inject more details where it's needed. Sometimes I comb through the manuscript a few times to make sure these details are consistent with each other. I reflect on aspects of the story  that are less credible or too predictable and fix them. I cut, add, and cut and add some more. I review notes and handouts from classes and conference workshops for guidance and inspiration.  

Then I repeat the above steps. It's like shampooing half a can of hair spray off after a school formal- rinse and repeat, and rinse and repeat some more.

Revising a novel takes A LOT of work. But it needs to be done. Whenever I think,  "Oh bother, here we go again" with my revising, I remind myself that few things worthwhile to attain are ever 100% perfect the very first time you try to pull it off. Revising my writing is like learning a new piano song. I've played the piano for many years although I'm not a sight reader.  So I get good at a song through the boring, obvious way- by playing it and replaying it some more.  My most favorite songs to perform are the ones I've practiced and practiced and practiced for quite a stretch of time before the piece reached performance-level quality. The audible quality between the first time I attempt to play a difficult piano song and the time I perform it for real should be as distinguishable as the screeching blender versus the nature sounds played through my spa massage. 

Same thing for writing my novel. After sending out my manuscript to critique buddies and reflecting on their feedback, I plan to revise yet some more. (Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.) While my first draft was meh, I'd like my final draft to come with invisible glue so the reader can't put it down.


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