The Power of Polish
Writing a novel can be a tremendous rush. When things work at their best, the words seem to flow magically onto the page and the story writes itself.
Now you’ve finished your magnum opus and typed the last few words. You’ve given birth. Months or years of struggle have paid off. You’re a writer. The excitement is almost as palpable as the fatigue.
Stick the manuscript in a drawer and forget about it for a while. How long depends upon how good your memory is. I tend to let mine sit for a few weeks. Then I drag the beast out, and begin the process that turns a rough draft into something ready to send to the editor.
I polish. I rewrite. I skeptically eye each sentence, and ask myself whether I can eliminate superfluous words, backstory, dialog or characters. I buff each paragraph, mindful of echoes, gratuitous description, unnecessary exposition, overly self-congratulatory cleverness, or anything that doesn’t move the story forward or create a specific effect I’m after. I do so with patience and care, and don’t rush, because in my experience, the difference between something passable and something great is the rewrite and polish process.
I’m not talking editing. Editing comes after you’ve polished and cut, cajoling miracles out of 26 letters. Editing, be it story/content editing or copy/line editing, happens after you’ve done your level best to get the story into the finest shape it can be. Sometimes it takes two or three drafts to get it right. I tend to know pretty quickly on rewrite whether it’s going to be one round, or ten. Some stories just require more time. Some need more attention.
My counsel, such as it is, would be to allow yourself adequate time to polish your work to the point where you’re confident that your editor is going to be spinning his wheels in frustration trying to find something to change. If you can get to that point, you probably have a book that’s got a running chance. If you can’t, and if you skim over those niggling middle parts in a race to get it out the door, you’re doing yourself and your readers a huge disservice. Because they won’t skim. They’ll just give up. Or write a nasty review. Or worst yet, just not buy your next one.
I have somewhat of a reputation for cranking out novels pretty quickly, and its true, I’m more prolific than most. But while my process is to pull very long contiguous days while writing, I don’t rush the rewrite. Because that’s where books are made, or broken. My approach is to write like the devil’s chasing me, and then slow down to a crawl on rewrite. Others may do it differently. But that’s the system that works for me.
Parting words of advice are simple. If you can’t sit back and say, upon re-read, that you’ve done the very best job you can, you’re selling yourself and your readers short. You both deserve better, so slow down, have a little patience, and get out the thesaurus and Strunk and White. Don’t cut yourself any slack. Everyone you know probably will, but your readers ultimately won’t, and if you want to run with the big dogs, be prepared to have to put in the hours, with a lot of discipline and distance from your work. Otherwise, you’re just adding to the clutter. And you don’t want clutter or half-baked work to be your legacy. Every book should be your best, every time, and rewrite is a big part of ensuring that what you set forth as your product not only passes muster, but wows.
“Captain” Russell, 52, lives on the Pacific coast of Mexico, where he spends his time writing, fishing, collecting & drinking tequila, and playing with his dogs. He is currently hard at work on a magnum opus of indeterminate plot, topic or genre, tentatively titled The Voynich Cypher; a satire/parody about the battle of the sexes; and a panoramic, epic screenplay about…cartoon ninja beavers for whom this time it’s personal, tentatively titled Beaver Team Bravo.
Often referred to as “The Writer’s Writer’s Writer’s Writer,” Russell is also a self-declared guru on everything related to writing, self-publishing and self-promotion.
Russell is the international bestselling author of Fatal Exchange, a groundbreaking genre-blending thriller set against the counter-culture backdrop of New York’s gritty underground, The Geronimo Breach, an action/intrigue/thriller set in Panama, the bestselling Zero Sum trilogy of Wall Street thrillers – Kotov Syndrome, Focal Point and Checkmate (which hit #15 on Amazon’s top 100 free books), The Delphi Chronicle trilogy (The Manuscript, The Tortoise & The Hareand Phoenix Rising), the epic assassination thriller King of Swords, and its prequel,Night of the Assassin, and The Voynich Cypher.
Russell is a proud member of RABMAD – Read A Book, Make A difference.
Find out more about Russell at his website: www.russellblake.com.