1. Do you have a play-by-play method for revising/polishing your work in order to reach the goal line?
A little of this, a little of that. I know what my weak points are, so I might start by double-checking a few things, like: Did I use ‘as if’ instead of ‘as though’? Did I misuse effect and affect? Did I absentmindedly put an ‘s’ on toward? How about then and than? That and which? They’re, their, and there? Your and you’re?
I start by reading what I have and if I see something like the above that I’ve done once or twice, I’ll jot it down and then go back through the whole manuscript with a “find and replace” attitude. After that, I also keep handy my physical detail sheets for each character so that I don’t mess up eye color or height or clothing. No one wants to see a character who wears only a t-shirt suddenly remove his jacket.
Now, down to the real polishing: I look for places where the story slows down, or where I can add depth to the character by adding a few words or a sentence. I look for dialog that sounds a bit off, or doesn’t quite sound like a character, or is actually not something a person would really say.
Polishing takes on different appearances for each novel. One novel I may want to get more and more depth into a character and I’m willing to lose a little action to do it. Where another novel, if it’s about the action, I might actually remove some “slow writing” so I can get back to the gunfire. It’s a personal thing. But it works for me.
2. Or, do instincts kick in and tell you when you have made a touchdown? In other words, how do you know when it's just right?
I’ll paraphrase W. S. Merwin here. In a poem he wrote about his teacher John Berryman, Merwin explains how he asked Berryman a similar question: “How can I know my poetry is any good?” Berryman answered by saying, “You can’t. And if you have to know that you’re writing is good, then don’t write.”
I love that. It speaks to two things: the art of writing, and the mystery of writing.
The art of writing is like the art of music, painting, or even automobile design. It basically says that you don’t know what’s good because good is subjective, not objective. Stop worrying about it.
The mystery, to me, concerns that fact that I don’t even know where the words come from in the first place. Who knows what any of us are writing, really. So, how can we judge whether it’s good or not. In fact, how can anyone? We can notice whether grammar or punctuation is correct (most of the time), and if spelling is correct, but that’s about it.
But we must judge. And if so, we judge for ourselves. What I find beautiful, another person finds boring, and visa versa. Case in point: My novel Sweet Song was recently on the top 100 list (made it to #3) in Amazon’s (paid) historical fiction section. It was there for over a week. I received two new reviews of the book after a day or two. One review was a one-star review and the other was a five-star review. So, I looked up a few of my favorite authors and their books. Every one of them had reviews at both ends of the spectrum. There is no knowing what is good writing for someone else.
Here’s the truth: I want to reach my readers. They are their own people, but for some reason they like what I write. That’s who I’m after. So, to get back to this question, only I know, ultimately, what’s best for my work. If I let myself read the manuscript as an outsider (which most often means I’ve let the work sit for a few months so that I can come back to it fresh), then I’m the only one who can judge whether it’s good or not. Trust in your own abilities and you’ll eventually find your voice and your readers. And that’s what we all want anyway
Terry Persun Website
The Author in all of us
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