Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Overcoming Resistance


Yesterday, I submitted my last package of writing for my fiction course. The official end date is November 29, but yesterday was the deadline for submitting writing. Man, did it ever speed by like crazy!

And so I've been thinking about all that I've learned during these past seven months. Overall, I learned how to edit a piece of my writing honesty and openly.

You see, when I first entered this course I was extremely resistant to editing my work in any way that "disrupted its integrity." Which, for a beginning fiction writer, can have a broad definition. So before I had any professional input, I had a tendency to think of 'editing' as copy/line editing: correcting the typos and grammatical errors.

Perhaps some of this also had to do with laziness. Having spend so long in school, writing essay after essay and editing them, I suppose it was a chore that I was not prepared to do. But the consequence of my resistance is that work on the manuscript ground nearly to a halt. I didn't want to edit and I didn't even realize what it was to edit, really.

During this course, the lessons I learned were related mainly to revision. The two things that helped the most were the fact that I worked on packets of 25 pages at a time thereby greatly reducing the anxiety I had when I looked at the shear amount of words there were to be dealt with. There was also the fact that I had someone else -- a professional set of eyes who would be looking at the work in short order. Knowing that helped me strive for perfection. Or, at least, the version of perfection as I knew it.

To break down the major lessons I learned about writing through this course:

1. You don't have to make one sentence do everything. Pretty basic stuff, I know. But I now realize that long sentences do not necessarily good writing make. I've learned the value of sentence length and structure variety.

2. Don't forget your setting. As I've discussed here in the past, I learned a lot about the about the value of setting description. I've learned that I don't always need to rush forward to the next plot point. That it's okay to enjoy describing small details and that such details enhance story rather than slow it down.

3. But you don't have to describe everything. I also had the opposite problem: when trying to infuse my manuscript with setting details, I would go overboard. I would describe everything about a certain setting. In that case, description actually does slow story. I've learned the value of a single, well-chosen metaphor.

4. I don't need fancy diction to be an author. Words like 'amongst', as much as I am in the habit of using them, have no place in modern writing. Perhaps this is not an axiom that any other author needs, but I sure do. I had the bad habit of using this weirdly old-fashioned diction in all my writing since I thought it would make the work more high-brow, or something. Now I am developing the habit of dropping all that window-dressing. It's like when you visit a house and it has those newsprint-stuffed puffs at the top of the curtains. Yeesh!

Well, I actually think that's it. The next steps for this manuscript are the final edit, and then pitching to agents. Am I there already?! Excitement! :)