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Is it Ready?
Posted: January 15th, 2012, 12:41 pm
Let me preface this post by saying I am one of the all-too-common writers who never thinks his work is good enough... ever. I am always struggling to polish my mss., always believing there to be more to fix than there probably is—I guess that is a better scenario than believing a first draft of anything to be perfect?
Like many people, I do not have a formal education in creative writing. It played a part in my education for all of two weeks in my fourth grade year. As such, I have chosen to read dozens of books on the craft of writing and revising. Thankfully, I have been blessed with creativity, as many people on the forums have, I'm sure. It is the technical aspects I struggle with.
Currently, I am on my fourth draft of my first book. I am hovering around 85k words at the moment. After I finished the last draft, I wrote a second book of similar length—to both continue the storyline I had started and to give myself distance from the first book.
My question is: How do you know when you have polished your ms. to the best of your abilities? Obviously, if you nitpick like me, there is always something to find wrong, or at least something to polish. When is it time to just cross your fingers and hope for the best?
Re: Is it Ready?
Posted: January 15th, 2012, 1:37 pm
Are you asking "When do you know to stop nitpicking?" or "When do you know it's ready to start querying?" Because those are two different questions.
If it's the first: I can't help you. I could read through my wip a hundred times and change something every time.
But if you're asking about the second question, that's different. Do you have access to a writing group? Or have you given the story to beta readers? (Not to be confused with our lovely family and friends who love everything we write, even when they shouldn't.)
It sounds like you're at a point where YOU are pleased with the story, which is a GREAT place to be! Perhaps the next step is to enlist the help of some objective readers?
Re: Is it Ready?
Posted: January 15th, 2012, 6:39 pm
Welcome to the forums, zrisso!
Knowing when you're "finished" is always tricky - note that I put finished in quotations, because like any artform it's never truly finished. Even published authors find things they wish to change in their paperbacks. It's just the cursenature of the writer.
I can't remember who said it, but one author said that when you start making changes that don't improve the manuscript - rather than making good writing great, you're making good writing good or great writing great - that's when to stop. When the changes you make no longer hold significant value to the quality of the writing, you're ready to move it along in the publishing process. This is a hard thing to explain, but it's something you can often feel. You've tinkered for so long that you're starting to feel like you've done this all before, you're rewriting sentences back the way they were before they were changed, you labor over a word just to leave it as it is because nothing works better, all you're doing are piddly things like moving commas and such. These are signs that it's probably time to send it off.
When all you're doing is nitpicking, it's probably time to start drafting your query. At least, that's how I've always worked - but then again, I'm not published so maybe I'm just wrong on that.
Re: Is it Ready?
Posted: January 15th, 2012, 11:42 pm
Sounds like you are rolling with your projects. A team of serious beta readers or an editor could be in order. Since you don't have the dept associated with an MFA program, you should consider hiring a pro to help hone your work. Whether you plan on seeking an agent or going the indie route, spend the time to treat your babies right.
Some editing services are offering what's called a Reader's Response. It's a sort of review and in depth 'book report' of sorts. Here's the official definition from the editors I used and a link.
Professional feedback on the overall concept and presentation of the book or story. This is especially helpful for authors who want guidance in self-editing or revising before deeper editing begins.
Indigo Editing: http://www.indigoediting.com/services.html
Cheers and good luck!
Re: Is it Ready?
Posted: January 16th, 2012, 12:52 am
Revision skills separate the artists from the hobbyists writing-wise. It's a matter of confidence and competence and confidence in competence complicated by emotional investment.
Skilled readers are a useful intermediate step, though eventually, a writer must and ought best go it alone. Many opinions tend to dilute a voice, craft features, confidence even. Some evaluating readers put on a good show for inexperienced struggling writers, but wind up spoiling writer confidence and delaying a poet's journey unnecessarily, perhaps deliberately due to artistic sensibility jealousy, consciously or otherwise.
Three basic areas for revision, and in this order, are a best practice: voice, craft, and mechanical style. Voice in a basic sense is a viewpoint persona's (narrator or character's) attitude toward a narrative's central topic or theme, approving or disapproving, for example. Craft is a matter of content, structure, and organization. Content is one area I find frequent shortcomings in inexperienced struggling writers' writing. The intents and intended meanings don't completely make it onto the page, remaining in a writer's creative vision mental perpective, thus why readers have a value.
Structure is a tough row to hoe. Simply, it's plot and its many attachments. Organization, a large concern, includes plot's dramatic structuring, also, with a central organizing principle to inform the structure. I.e., whether a plot drives toward a conflict resolution outcome or a revelation or transformation or other outcome; whether a narrative is a drama: comedy, tragedy, or bildungsroman, for instance, or an anecdote or vignette or sketch; whether a plot is a central emphasis or character is, or setting or event or theme or voice. Whether plot is a central organizing principle in the first place or some other organizing principle is, has more impact.
And audience. Writing for publication is writing for an audience. Carefully defining a target audience is, in a final analysis sense, half the battle.
I've tracked inexperienced struggling writers and accomplished struggling authors' development of revision processes and strategies for my own ends. One of the more crucial aspects I've learned is when revision is effective it's usually a product of insightful appreciation for voice and craft, content, structure, and organization. Of late and for nigh on half a century or more, much emphasis has been placed on writing from a creative and original approach. However, reader and audience cultural expectations demand a conformance to a coding convention, be that voice and/or craft. Both are a product of content, structure, and organization, which happen to be what solely creative approaches short-shrift.
Uncertainty, I've seen from inexperienced struggling writers as well, is usually a consequence of a hunch, an intuition something's not all it can be. It's a valid hunch, but what to do about it? Careful analysis of content, structure, and organization effectiveness is a useful answer. Draft writing doesn't require a plan, per se. Revision does. A revision plan derives from conforming expression (voice), content, structure, and organization to audience cultural expectations without deviating from creative intents and meanings.
I do not understand the resistance to formula writing (content, structure, and organization). At some point, a formula is what makes or breaks a writer and a writer's writing. The point of epiphany regarding a writing formula is, in my experience, profound. Mine came when I realized and heartily appreciated life is a plot, writing is a plot, and life is writing. Readers globally share that experience, though we and they rarely realize there's a formula involved influencing our life complications, desires, decisions, and outcomes.
Re: Is it Ready?
Posted: January 16th, 2012, 11:52 am
Thanks for such great replies, everyone!
From reading everything said, it looks like I am almost at the point in the self-editing process where I need to get feedback from beta readers, but I need to remember to take what they say with a grain of salt (unless I can find a professional editor to read for me.) I have read any number of books, most recently Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and I have done everything to the ms. I am "supposed" to do at this point. Readers definitely seem to be the way to go after I finish this round of revisions.