I spent a long time dreading the task of revising my novel. I think every writer has at some point dreamed of creating a flawless first draft that will liberate her from criticism and have a Pulitzer waiting as she types the final keystrokes (or scrawls the final words with aplomb).
No one really likes criticism. It never feels good for someone to point out flaws, even if they’re being constructive about it. In all the writing groups I’ve been to thus far, there has been this structure of “point out something you like so you can say what you don’t like.” I don’t think I’m alone when I say that after a while of living in that structure, the compliments all start to ring a wee bit hollow. The old ego can really take a bashing when people start digging through your words, picking some out, and tackling others with sledgehammers.
All that said, I’m fixing to add a big however.
(There it is.)
Criticism is how we grow. Even if it’s put rather unkindly, the meat of what’s there could make you a better writer. I have a huge issue using the word “stare.” Why, I don’t know. So-and-so stared at other-character. A stared at B. Asswipe and Poo stared at each other. I also struggle with passive voice and that wormy little creature, the adverb. Sometimes I’m oblivious to my quirks as a storyteller, and I need someone to just say, “Dude. Knock it off with the staring contests already.” Or, “FIND A MORE DYNAMIC VERB!”
If you want to be published, you need all sorts of readers. You need the Parental Figure. They’re the one who loves whatever you wrote simply because you wrote it, and you’re the obvious choice for Best Writer Ever because you are you. They’re the ones in your corner, picking you up when someone bloodies your nose or knocks you out, telling you to get your ass back out there and write. You also need the Eagle Eye, who will go through your work with a fine-toothed comb and circle all your comma splices and thoughtless typos with a fat red pen. You need the Arrogant Richard. That’s the guy or gal who knows better than any Nobel Prize winner what makes good writing. The one who will tell you what sucks and why. Who won’t pull a single punch because they are so damned sure they know better than you do. And you need the First Fanbase — they might be the most important of all, because they read it, get to know it, tell you what works and what doesn’t, and ultimately will tell their friends to buy it off the shelves.
You also need yourself. Stephen King likes to put his manuscripts away for weeks or months after he finishes them, then goes back to read them with fresh eyes. It works. It’s shocking how it can make you exclaim, “Oh my god! I wrote that!” or “Oh. My. God. I…wrote……………that?”
The point of all of this is that revision is a great way to find out what your skill set needs as a writer, whether that’s a crash course in plot or pacing or a return to constructive dialogue and exposition. Let’s face it: that perfect first draft is the writer’s version of finding a winning lottery ticket in a gutter. Part of what makes writers great is the ability to push themselves to make their work better all the time.
So get your vomit drafts. Read them. Revise them, and love what you’re doing.
(Sidenote: I am now 180 pages into the first rewrite of Primeval. And loving it all over again.)
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