Yesterday, I finished a first draft of a novel I’ve been working on for something like a year and about the ‘Sixties. Okay, I’ll quote David Crosby on that subject again.
“If you remember the ‘Sixties, you weren’t there.”
That quote sometimes confuses me; I often feel I remember too much of that era.
So I had done something in preparing to write that novel I rarely do: I’d outlined it in great detail. Usually I scratch out a few ideas and characters on a pad of paper, just to keep from going too far afield as I write. But a more formal outline for this one seemed necessary because I planned a number of characters and over a span of time, 1968-1970. It’s important in semi-historical writing to at least keep the chronological sequences right. Not that I stick religiously to an outline. As I write and the story comes alive, things change.
At any rate, that’s done, and I’m in edit mode now. Editing is different. The right brain exercise of writing creatively is where most recognize the “high (yes, a ‘Sixties reference)” lies. That’s why so many first novels end up being 150,000 to 250,000 words long in first draft. We just can’t stand to stop the high, so when he finish that great initial writing, which is sure to knock the socks off any agent’s or editor’s feet, we’re told we have a mess. Instead of a finely shaped and sanded piece of lumber, we have a piece of pine with burrs and scars, and all sorts of odd branches and stubble protruding from it – something only a squirrel could love.
But I’m here to testify that there’s a high to editing, too. It’s a different sort of high, and it draws heavily from proper syntax and grammar, as well as all those notes and underlinings you received from workshops, critique groups, and creative writing classes. Here, the reader is God. Unless you’re like Miles Davis, turning your back to the audience and playing to your band of musicians, you write to entertain and inform an audience, and you need to begin to think like them: what will surprise them, what will make them think, and on and on. What you don’t want to do is make them work too hard to figure out what your characters are about, what each sentence of creative syntax is trying to say.
Most people who are good editors claim that the real fun is there, more so than in the initial writing. But you can get “high” from both phases of writing. Especially if you’re writing a novel about the ‘Sixties.
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