I’m planning to make the shift to giving away all of my fiction for free. I’ve cut production costs for any given publication by investing in the tools and skills necessary to do formatting and cover design, but editing – that’s a non-trivial expense. I’m not complaining. My editor charges a fair rate for the excellent work she does, and I come away from each piece we produce feeling like we’ve made something worthy – together. However, the shift to entirely free raises the question: should I continue to pay hundreds of dollars per story if I am not selling the books? I am fortunate in that this is a separate question than the one of being able to afford to pay an editor, and yet…. I’ll admit, I considered skipping editing. It gave me a twinge, and whenever something twinges in my conscience, I ask Mr. Aniko what he thinks. He was the one to remind me of the movie Chef, which we watched a few weeks ago.
Mr. Aniko: You remember that scene in Chef, where the son wants to serve the burned sandwich to someone who wasn’t paying, and the father (the chef) prevents him?
Me: Yes. That was one of my favorite scenes.
Mr. Aniko: The chef said that they couldn’t serve the sandwich, and the son said, “Well, they’re not paying for it.” Then the chef explained that to his son that cooking is both an art and a labor of love, and if you love something, you do it to the best of your ability, no matter if someone is paying for it or not.
If I were to skip editing, I’d be casting myself as the son giving away burnt sandwiches. It wouldn’t be respectful to readers. It wouldn’t be respectful of the gift I have been given nor of the source of that gift.
Recently, I listened to a sermon on the nature of God’s light. Each person is a unique expression of love, and this love is produced as light. The preacher meant literal light – as in glowing, white light coming from people who had removed enough of their false selves to let the inner light shine through. It reminded me that we’re all made of star dust. It reminded me that “namaste” means “the light in me reflects the light in you.” It reminded me that readers aren’t some nebulous entities who are there to read&review my stories for my benefit. To give them anything less than my best effort would be disrespectful to them, and through them, right back up to the source of that star dust, that light.
As a former co-worker always said, “There’s only one way to do any job: the right way.”
At least once a week, I make a point to visit Arts and Letters Daily. A&L is an aggregator site, gathering the most thought-provoking editorials on a variety of subjects. Recently, A&L linked to a piece entitled Revising Your Writing Again? Blame the Modernists. Revising Your Writing explores the Modernist origins of the revision philosophy, where works are torn down to be put back together with a goal of enhancing style. Prior to the Lost Generation, revisions were minor. Paper was a luxury, and without typewriters, revising an entire novel would mean rewriting the entire thing longhand. Then came Hemingway and T.S. Eliot, who took the philosophy of revision and raised it to an art. Their results were incredible, and wholly new – and wholly encouraged thenceforth as The Way to Write.
We’ve long since moved past paper as the medium for creative writing. Electrons for revision are ubiquitous, endless. This leads to its own dilemma: how does a writer know when to stop editing?
I’m a fan of revision. I love the psychological freedom of the first draft, and the covenant of editing that “first” implies. The problem is that writing a novel isn’t like building a house. There isn’t a blueprint or a city code or safety ordinances. The author alone is the arbiter of DONE, FINISHED, THE END. The general revision manifesto goes something like this:
Beta read revisions
Final WOW, I’m sick of this! revision
This process works well for a given novel, over a finite span of time. If it takes a year for an author to get through the full revision cycle, there has only been a year for the writer to improve her craft, and what she can do now is only somewhat better than what she could do a year ago. If the author has a hopeless case of “being a writer,” she’ll keep writing. Five years, ten. And one day, she looks at that book that made it through the revision process years ago, and realize that she could do it better now. What was her best, is now only an intimation of her current skill.
Reading old works shows us how much, and in what ways, we have improved. It is encouraging. It also triggers the desire to revise.
As I bring forth my backlog of unpublished works, I’m dwelling in the hinterlands of the modernist: a revision is a revision is a revision. These works were deemed DONE at the time I wrote them; most are very far from what I would considered polished now, years later. I am putting them through the editing cycle as if they are brand new. The self-edits are rather extensive, which is both encouraging because I’ve improved and discouraging because the stories aren’t as DONE as I thought. Still, I believe this is a valid and appropriate application of revision. I believe a writer should make every piece she publishes the very best she can — at the time of publication.
In the age of author-publishing, it is possible to edit published works. I know I get the craving to take a red pen to STOLEN CLIMATES. In a technical sense, the novel would be better if I wrote it now. Of course, I’m not writing it now. It is published. It has been read and enjoyed, spawned conversations. It is no longer just mine, but something I have shared with many people. I’ve recently changed the licensing to creative commons, so anyone could edit it, including me.
If I revise STOLEN CLIMATES now, I’ll have to go back and edit it again in some number of years. Taken to a logical extreme, there would come a point where all I would do is rewrite already published works. I would not have the time to create that which is not yet created. My forward progress in technique, style, mood, and dialog would falter. I would become a parody of a Modernist, hacking away at pieces until they are less than what they were. A clean room is perfectly perfect, sterile, nothing extra or unexpected. That’s great for building microprocessors. It sounds kind of horrible for a novel, though, doesn’t it?
We cannot revise our personal history, nor should we revise our literary history. We grow and change, and it is right that our work grows and changes, too. To me, a successful literary life is one where each book surpasses the previous one.
To me, a successful literary life is one where each book surpasses the previous one.
Ksenia Anske is a great example of bravery in revision and seeking early feedback. She posts the major drafts of each of her works as she completes them. She’s thrown open the door on the Modernist’s writing room, showing the world how stories are crafted in the age of the easy electron. I hope that more writers follow Ksenia’s lead. Storage is cheap, websites trivial to construct, and electronic PDFs shareable between people and across devices. There is no reason to produce and share only a final draft, other than to keep the writer’s process in a vault separate from the reader. Ksenia’s idea is inspiring, and I’ll be sharing a few drafts of MIXED MEDIA when I publish it. There is joy and learning to be had from looking at how a work changes throughout revision. If we each share what it means to us to be DONE, perhaps we will stop struggling with the question of DONE alone, and face it together, our own post-post-Modernist movement.
Does this mean you should wait to publish everything until you are at the peak of mastery? Setting aside the problem of knowing when you’ve peaked, does this feel like a right solution? I don’t think so. Neither we nor our writing will ever be perfect, but there is efficacy in feedback. Readers will teach you your strengths, but also point out your stylistic ticks and authorial failings. My suggestion is to do the best you can do now. Hire a great editor. Solicit beta readers. Slog through that march of revisions. And then – then! LET GO. Accept praise and criticism, but only insofar as either improves your writing. Hone your craft, and start all over with a new story. You are a storyteller: go forth and share your stories!
PS – If you haven’t already done so, please VOTE for the cover you’d like to see on my upcoming surreal short, MIXED MEDIA.
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My friend and fellow Emissary of the Strange, Jonathan (@crimnos) tagged me to participate in #luckyseven. The rules of the #luckyseven are simple:
Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
Go to line 7
Post on your blog the next 7 lines or sentences – as they are!!
Tag 7 other people to do the same
This is my first tag as a blogger and an awesome chance to show off seven sentences from some works. I selected from three works, all of them at different stages of editing. What I discovered is that the more I edit, the shorter and more coherent my sentences get. For my third selection, I’ll show you seven sentences before and after one round of editing. There be dragons in the unedited version! Bad sentences, with a hint of unintentional plagiarism. See if you can spot the phrase that rightfully belongs to another, very awesome author – and note that I get rid of it in the first pass revision!
As for my seven tagged individuals, many of these are folks from the #WIP500. I do not know all of them well, but they are actively writing and pursuing the perfect sentence. I’d love to see what they’re up to!
Sandra Dehelen @dehelen
J Aric Keith @sirkeystone
Rob Sharkey Pruneda @sharkbaitwrites
Mari Biella @maribiealla1
Angie Richmond @write_me_happy
Wakefield Mahon @wakefieldmahon
Hunter Shea @huntershea1
Stolen Climates is a published work and in its final state.
They sat in silence, both of them looking at Linnae. She had wrapped her doll’s head with a blanket. One eye looked out, the lid drooped in sly knowledge.
“Are you feeling up to happy hour?” Malcolm asked.
“I’m already there,” Genny said.
“Maybe tomorrow we could ask Olivia to watch Laney for a little while, spend a little time just the two of us.”
“I’m not leaving my daughter with that creepy witch.”
Goat Song for a Joshua Tree
GSfaJT has been through several edits, but not formally sent to an editor (yet).
I crouch to relieve myself in the blue bin. Death has his hands on my ankles. His thumb joints rub my Achilles tendon.
My voice echoes around and around in my concrete box, ringing like chimes as it shatters my glass self. I am less than what I was. I am an animal, a caged animal.
Raw, Unedited WIP “Fluffy”
Fluffy is absolutely unedited. Here’s a glimpse of what I suffer through when I write the first draft:
She froze; from the room came the papery abuse of shopping bags being hurled onto the bed. The television was tuned to a dead channel, hissing and hissing at the ringing phone jangling from the nightstand. Cold air poured from around the seams of the door, tendrils of unnatural frigidity unrelated to the intense heat of the cranked-up heater. Kirin’s fingers found the cardkey. She clicked shut her purse. It coincided with the thump of a gunshot muffled by a pillow.
First Revision WIP “Fluffy”
She froze, one hand in her purse. From inside the room came the papery abuse of shopping bags being hurled onto the bed. Cold air poured from the seams of the door, tendrils of unnatural frigidity. There! In a side pocket she felt the smooth plastic of her card key, the one thing she couldn’t afford to leave behind. Kirin clicked shut her purse. It coincided with the thump of a gunshot muffled by a pillow.
Please follow my writing friends, and hop on over to Jonathan’s site, Shaggin’ the Muse to check out his #luckyseven!
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I am mistress of procrastination. Madam of the misspent minute. I am a writer who has had the edits for my novel sitting here for a month. They are good edits, worthy of incorporating into the book, and I am thankful to have them. Yet in the past few, blissfully obligation-free days, I have tried almost anything to avoid editing.
I did most of my Christmas shopping on Amazon, and told myself it was to save money with the Black Friday deals. I have walked the dogs in the rain, and told myself it was to prevent them from bothering me when I sat down to edit. I have let a sip of wine become a glass, become an evening watching movies. I have gone out in search of the perfect jasmine green tea, despite the fact I cannot read the Chinese, Japanese, or Korean on any of the packaging. I have taken naps. Long naps. Hour devouring naps. I have walked the dogs, again. I went back to Amazon and started looking for new welcome mats because, well, it’s hard to edit knowing that the Texas sun has had its way with the welcome mats and left them brittle and faded. I logged onto my non-writer Facebook profile for the first time in months. I visited etsy, to do more holiday shopping (no deals there, too bad). I did the laundry. I painted my nails. I swept the floors. I drifted over to other writers’ blogs and left comments. I have opened this post and started typing.
I am on page 155 of 259.
My youngest nephew, who was here for Thanksgiving, brought along a golden Buddha statue for me. The Buddha was a gift given to his father, and I will be returning it when we make the pilgrimage to their home for Christmas, but for now Buddha is keeping me company. When I asked my four-year old nephew why he brought me a Buddha, he said, “You have earned this!”
I’m earning it now, Jazzy, I promise. I intend to finish this final revision by the end of Sunday, 12.04.11. Send me luck, links to cute welcome mats, and any hints you have on where to find the best jasmine green tea!
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