Joy of Completion
What creative doesn’t love the exultation of typing the final line, adding the ultimate brush stroke, or composing the last note? It’s a mountaintop experience. We bask in the euphoria for a minute, an hour, a day, maybe even a week, but then, we sigh and return to our project, knowing there are yet improvements to make. We can’t live on the peak forever, there’s nothing there to sustain us. So, we climb down and get back to work.
I’m no artist, so I’ll leave you to your own contemplations, but speaking for writers, the first draft is usually a huge mess. Often a jumble of thoughts, ideas, and themes connected by characters and some dialogue. So, we begin to revise. Create order from our chaos and braindumps. Hopefully, we locate the kernels of ideas that blossom into the story we imagined in our heads. Sometimes we come across wisdom and wonder how that got there. “Surely, I didn’t write that beautiful line,” we say. Then smile knowing somewhere within live ideas worth sharing. And, so, we muddle on.
I wrote my first several novels as a pantser – with little overt planning, plotting, or forethought. I started with a basic idea and ran with it. This made my revisions long and difficult. Sorting through way too many words for the thread that would tie my ramblings into a cohesive story. I’ll say I revised my first novel at least twenty times, and even at that, it isn’t done.
Learning to plot has been difficult, but worthwhile. A subscription to Novel.Academy with video and live lessons has improved my ability a hundredfold. I highly recommend this organization. There are many others which are worthwhile as well. Find one that fits your personality and style and join.
My latest WIP (work-in-progress) wasn’t plotted, but plotting has helped with revisions. Understanding plotting, the coordinated dance of acts and scenes, has clued me in to the weaknesses and provided knowledge of how to strengthen them effectively.
Another help with revision is a craft partner. Having another person (or people) who understand writing and story can bring revelations you may in time come to on your own, but will find in far less time by discussing the problems with them.
A craft partner is different from a critique partner or group. Critiques often center on grammar, phrasing, and line item edits. With a craft partner, the emphasis is generally on larger concepts: theme, character arcs, continuity, brainstorming, and encouragement. Craft partners cheer each other on, point out each other’s weaknesses, and help each other overcome. Yes, they read each other’s work and comment on it, but more than that, they’re there when rejections come or a scene refuses to come together. They provide ideas and someone to talk to or celebrate with. A good craft partner is worth more than the bit of lost sleep or reading time you may lose when they call at inconvenient times with a problem that just won’t wait.
The editing phase follows revision and is where we eliminate all the unnecessary or boring phrases and replace them with deeper emotions, symbolic gestures, and character- or world-building description. We eliminate typos, fix tense and check point-of-view.
This is the phase where a critique group or partner shines. Others can find errors we cannot, having read our own stories so much, our eyes skim over mistakes. Hiring an editor can be a huge boon, too. Especially if you aren’t confident in your own abilities. There are online programs that will check your grammar and word usage as well.
It may take several passes before you’re satisfied with your finished product. Actually, I could probably edit forever, but at some point, we must let go. Now, it’s time to send it into the world.
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Thanks for reading! What do you have to add? Any tips or suggestions I missed? Please comment below. I read and reply to all responses.