While taking photos of some old rocks and crystals last week, it struck me how much writing and rock polishing have in common.
Your first draft is like an unpolished rock, especially if you’re a writer who lets the words flow first and edits later.
You have to clean the draft, sometimes over and over. You have to get into those crevices and scrape out the bad grammar and typos, replace or remove words (sometimes entire sentences, paragraphs, and chapters).
You have to grind your manuscript into shape (this sometimes results in tears, fingers hovering over the delete button, or tearing of pages … and hair). What works? What doesn’t? What’s flat? What’s over-the-top? Does it make sense? Is it in the right order?
Sanding comes next – the edit that smooths out the rough edges and the shape emerges. Maybe you get a manuscript assessment (if you haven’t already done so). You may have conflicting advice from beta readers or critique partners. Do you need to use coarse or soft sandpaper at this point? Sometimes you have to trust your gut, other times experience.
And then you polish, revealing the shine that is your novel.
I found out something about my own writing this week. My novel, which now stands at 50,000 words is emerging slowly, word by word. It’s not so much a first draft as a more polished draft. Sometimes I can draft – write a pile of notes – but mostly I like to linger over it, mulling over the words like I’m sipping a rich red wine.
On the other hand, my process for writing a romance submission – it will be a 10,000-word short romance – is entirely different. I sat down, merrily typed up ideas, short scenes, paragraph drafts and conversations, all of which may or may not end up in the final story. I wrote 2,500 words – what amounts to a quarter of the story. I didn’t worry so much about getting everything right. It’s probably because the subject matter and emotional levels are so different – the light-hearted rom-com I have in mind is the opposite of the domestic drama I’m teasing out.
Last week, I sent a short story to short story writer and editor Laurie Steed for assessment. He’s going to read this story, which I know deep down is a gem), and tell me where it can be strengthened, or polished. Then, I’m going to re-polish, sand first if necessary, and re-submit. This story matters to me. I want its lustre to be seen.
I received a rejection for a poem as well. But you know what? It didn’t bother me one bit because this is what the editor said:
Your poem was descriptive and visceral. You write about a difficult topic in a non-judgmental, empathetic way. I’d like to see you strip down your use of punctuation – experiment with line breaks and form to see if there is a way to create the same rhythm without cluttering the stanzas.
What does this mean? That the gem needs a little more polish. But, words like visceral means they “got” it. Feedback like that is precious because it will help my writing develop.