The first time I got serious about editing one of my own manuscripts, I had no idea what I was doing. In the two or so years that I revised and queried, I actually lost count of the number of different drafts saved on my computer. Part of my difficulty came from trying to figure out publishing and its process, and what I could do to improve my odds. Part of it was a result of teaching myself how to revise, of digging deeper and overcoming dozens of stumbling blocks in an effort to make my story better.
I’ve learned a lot since then. Sometimes that knowledge feels like a burden, especially when it prevents me from getting lost in my stories because I’m obsessing about all the things I’ll have to fix. Most of the time though, it’s encouraging. I know a lot more about crafting good characters and developing plots and pacing. I’m much, much better at spotting large scale manuscript issues in earlier drafts of my stories.
I’m just not sure that any of those things have necessarily made me a better writer.
Before anyone leaps to accuse me of contradicting myself, let me explain. Though I feel that my writing has greatly improved in the last few years, there is one big important skill that I still need to sharpen. One personal problem that undermines a bunch of the other improvements I’ve made.
It takes way too long for me to find the right story.
I don’t mean the right protagonist to follow, or the overall pattern of events. I’m not referring to a draft that I can finish and enjoy and think is pretty decent work. My major sticking point has always been telling my protagonist’s story in a way that contains only the best, most exciting pieces. That keeps me speed-writing and the reader turning the pages, desperate to get to the ending. Compelling characters and a handful of well-executed scenes don’t make a good story. Decent writing doesn’t make a good story. Following a MC who fascinates you on a journey that you MUST see through to its conclusion is what makes a good story. And by that definition, my writing isn’t there yet.
But my rewriting might be.
Even though I know that I’ve come a long way since my first round of querying, I’ve also tricked myself into thinking that my improvements were larger than they actually are. I told myself a dozen times while I was editing draft two of FACING THE MUSIC that I probably wouldn’t have to rewrite it. That with the right amount of help, it would be in querying shape. When I was beating my head against the wall during revisions, I told myself the same lie over and over because I was desperate to believe that I wouldn’t have to rewrite again.
I ran headfirst into the same mental brick wall so many times that I stopped seeing what was right in front of me. Writing may be where I find the crux of my stories, but rewriting is where the improvements happen. The majority of the knowledge I gained about good writing didn’t come from tweaking my prose to perfection, or rearranging the order of events on a scene by scene basis. It came from pulling the best parts of my previous draft and starting from scratch.
There are people who can put out phenomenal first drafts with only a handful of rounds of revisions, but I’m not one of them. I have to spend a lot of time with my ideas to develop them properly, to turn them into something I can be proud of. I’m not a good writer, not in the traditional sense, but I am a good re-writer.
And whenever I get impatience with my pace or my progress, that’s what I’m going to remind myself.