Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's a Process

Of all the blogs I visit, I think Deadline Dames is my favorite for writing advice. The blog is run by nine published authors, who offer advice and inspiration for writers and an inside peek into the world of authors for readers. Yesterday's post was especially pertinent to my life: Tips for NaNoers. However, it was Jenna Black's recent post that cheered me up more.

In the post, Black details the minimum number of times she reads through her own story before it's published, noting at what stages she goes back for reads and rereads, when she does edits, and when she does rewrites. It was comforting to see that she reads her book at least 7 times, with the beginning getting an extra 6 reads along the way. Having just finished my umpteeth read/edit of Madison, and seeing what's ahead of me for Sasha, it was wonderful for me to see that a published author has to spend so much time polishing her work, too.

Which got me thinking. I have this idealized vision in my head (still!) that really good authors like Janet Evanovich and Laurell K. Hamilton, authors with lots of books under their belts, don't have to do edits. That they write their first draft, it goes by their editor, and they make the changes suggested, and then it goes to copyedit and print. I know this isn't true. I also know that these seasoned authors don't have to do as many edits as those starting out their career. But it wasn't until I read this blog yesterday that I fully realized how absurd my expectation of zero edits is.

To put it in perspective for myself, I tried thinking of other jobs where the first attempt was expected to be perfect. Artists spend hours and days and possibly months with their canvases, getting every color and detail just right. Engineers draft a design, make changes, build their invention, and make rounds of modifications until everything runs smoothly. Chefs make multiple variations of a dish until they get the flavors just right. One pass simply doesn't cut it.

I think with writing, it has the illusion of appearing to be easy. You read a great novel, and it seems like those perfect sentences must have just flowed in exact form onto the page, since there's no better way they could have been arranged. And there's the implication that if you're making something up, it should be easy. After all, children make things up all the time. It can't be too hard.

Writing a novel also has an elongated learning curve. It takes writing a whole book (or three, or eight) to learn the process, and writing a book typically takes at least a month. Then there's editing it. Then there's critiques, rewrites, and edits again. For me, it takes some time and distance to see some of the major flaws (like the lack of a third act, character holes). It has taken me a little over two years to get Madison ready to sell. That's a long, long learning arc.

Because the process takes so much time, I had the feeling that one book should teach everything. There are very few other things that it took me two years to learn (and that's not counting the previous eight years that I've been working on other writing projects). Part of my depression this weekend was realizing that I still have so much more to learn. Which is why it's such a huge comfort to me to be reminded by published authors that this is a process. Rounds of edits are just part of the process.

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