Hello, dear readers. Apologies for being AWOL. I'm currently in the midst of a small family health crisis and my attention is often needed elsewhere. I'm going to continue to try regularly posting, but unfortunately, it may be difficult for some time.
Writing wise, I'm still waiting for a response from the indie publisher I sent to, which is a good sign (I could use some good news right about now). I'm also in the middle of writing a new article for The Next Family (something I've neglected for far too long). And I'm still doing what I've come to call "writing grunt work": editing, polishing, tinkering, rinse, repeat. Hence this post.
It always amazes me just how far my manuscripts have come. When I first started writing, I made the common rookie mistake of including way too much dialogue. I think my first novel started out as 90% dialogue, which is just plain sloppy writing. To remedy this, I went through a series of rewrites. First, I added in a monumental amount of details. I described every last feature, every last item, every last sound, smell, and sight in every single scene. Even though I would wind up cutting most of it, it didn't matter. Better to start out with too much.
The second rewrite focused entirely on character. Every little quirk, characteristic, feature that made the character unique was written in. I found this to be surprisingly difficult. I had always thought I had a good sense of who my characters were until I began this rewrite. I was positively shocked by how much I learned when I had finished this second rewrite. I learned how to make a character pop when you wanted her/him to and how to hide a character in the background without forgetting about her/him.
The third rewrite was the most tedious. I had to go through each page, word by word, and correct any mistakes I had missed and removed any unnecessary details that were distracting or just not required. I had to know what I had to pick apart: everything. I had to question every word choice, not just every scene.
I had a fairly strong manuscript after these three rewrites, but the story just wasn't doing what I wanted it to do. So I decided after a couple months to do another rewrite, not as massive as the first three, but still major enough to dig out the plot that I wanted. While in the middle of this rewrite, I took the opportunity to polish up the dialogue a bit (something that has always given me trouble is dialogue. I'm quiet by nature, so dialogue is not something that comes easily). It was after this last rewrite that I had the manuscript I wanted. It took me more than two years.
People that claim they write a story once and that's it are not writers. Writing is a job, not a hobby. Like any other job, there are some incredibly unpleasant aspects to writing. Grunt work is one such aspect. I like to say that if you aren't tired of your own work by the time you're done rewriting, you're doing something wrong. All the great writers, past and present, do multiple rewrites of their stories and novels. There isn't a writer alive that goes through a manuscript once and thinks, "Perfecto!" No, writing takes time, energy, and a monumental amount of patience.
Even after all that, chances are that you still won't be satisfied with the end product. When I went to a Neil Gaiman reading once, he related how whenever a publisher tells him a story is brilliant, his first thought is usually "You didn't see what I had planned in my head." It's an odd phenomenon how the writer can never seem to commit to paper exactly what they are seeing in their mind. I don't know why this is, but I know I frequently feel it.
One of the most difficult aspects of being a writer is the lack of guidelines. Sure, we know the basics of grammar and plotting, most of the technical stuff. However, we don't know how many rewrites it takes to get to a readable manuscript. For me, it's probably around 4-6. For someone else, it may be more or it may be less (though I'm wary of anyone who doesn't go through at least 3 rewrites).
The best writers are passionate about the written word and they use that passion to slog through the multiple rewrites and subsequent frustration. Unfortunately, there is no getting around it: you need to constantly rewrite and polish if you want to write a really good story. You need to read your story over and over and over again, until you want to claw your eyes out. That's one of the downsides of writing (one of many).
The upside, though, is you get to create. You get to peer into another world, create unique and engaging characters, go places you only dream of, and feel the incredible sensation of weaving a story with your words. Personally, I wouldn't trade that for the world.