Thursday, June 24, 2010

Apparently I don't heed good advice

One of my aunt's is a prolific writer (she's had more than 12 books published) and editor, and when I told her that I was writing a manuscript she gave me one piece of advice: don't let anyone else read it until YOU think it's perfect. They'll never be able to get that first version out of their minds, and their feedback won't be as helpful.

At the time I thought "yeah, sure, good. I'll make it perfect." And I set out with the best of intentions, childrens, I really did. I figured I'd write a rough draft, go through an edit or two, and then when I couldn't find anything wrong with it anymore, I'd turn it over to some beta readers. Right? Right.

There were things I wasn't prepared for, gentle readers. Things like TIME and IMPATIENCE and HOW MANY FRIGGIN TIMES DO I HAVE TO READ THIS CHAPTER type things. Or the THIS WHOLE BOOK IS CRAP I'M SCRAPPING IT thing. Don't act like you've never had that thing, I've seen your computer files. The manuscripts you'd rather burn than let someone else read. Some of them are there for a good reason, but some of them are there because you just got tired of looking at the same words over and over.

So I thought, ahhh, I'll let the P-i-C read them. He can give me constructive feedback and then I don't feel like I'm huddled in a corner scratching stories onto the wall for six months with no return. And so I handed some chapters over. And then some more. And then it was the whole book.

The whole first draft.

Let that sink in. I let someone read a first draft. Does he know that's a first draft? Sure. Does he know all the things I intend to fix later? No. Can he ignore them if I tell him to? No. It's like on TV, when lawyers will slip in some sentence they know they're not supposed to say so that the jury hears it even though it's stricken from the record (I'm pretty much a lawyer, so I know these things are true). A reader won't ignore something just because you tell them to.

So I finished the first draft of the current WIP and immediately went into character revisions. My two MCs weren't strong enough, and they didn't create enough of a spark together. So I SLAVE over a revised chapter one and swagger over to the P-i-C with lappy in hand.

"There you go, shiny new revised chapter one."
"Oh, cool." Pause for reading. "Wait, this is just the same thing."
"WHAT?!? This is TOTALLY different!"
"What's different?"
"There's...dialogue. And description. And I made her less whiny and I made him cooler. It's STREETS AHEAD of the original first chapter."
"Oh. Seems the same to me."
Frustrated tearing out of hair.

And that's when my aunt's words came echoing back to me. I couldn't take back what he'd already read. I couldn't take back that he already knew the plot line and so any added mystery was lost on him. I'd put words out there and now I couldn't take them back.

The truth is, I'll keep bugging the P-i-C to read my stuff. I need some kind of instant gratification that I'm headed on the right path, and I've pretty much corrupted him anyway. But I've learned a valuable lesson about when to hand over a piece of work to an outside audience: you better be darn sure you can't think of a SINGLE THING to fix anymore, because you can't take those words back.


Tere Kirkland said...

So true! I guess it's a little different if you're working with a crit group, but yeah, they're always going to remember how it used to be, and some changes you think are uber-important might be lost on them.

Good post!

Tahereh said...

that is so interesting! i never even thought about it like that. then again, i am AWFUL with recruiting beta readers. so i am a horrible person to know anything about these things.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. That's an excellent advice!

This is why it's important to have several beta readers in several stages, I think. :)

Lisa and Laura said...

OMG, this is the best advice ever. We'll have to remember this when we get all itchy to send our manuscript to our beta reader. Must. Never. Forget.

Christina Lee said...

wow--good advice!! I did the same one with my first one and yeah...can't take that back!