Friday, February 3, 2012

Improve every draft beyond expectation.

There is an important aspect to writing that I never see anyone comment on.

How improvements to the manuscript happen out of sight.

I've noticed in my writers group, that there are those who bring a story and get critiqued, and who only change the story slightly in response. Or they don't change it at all.

There are others who take the criticism to heart, and the next time they read the same chapter it's improved by leaps and bounds.

This latter group are the more likely to be published, I noticed. Eventually. That is, I'm not surprised when they later get published.

I'm assuming that the next draft, whether I heard it or not, also improved. And the next.

It's that talent of constantly making genuine improvements that eventually makes a manuscript readable.

But the critiquers are always going to be behind the evolution.

That's why I think people can so often be surprised when a person they read has some success. Because they read the lessor copy, the incomplete, the unfinished work.

Even the last draft -- the one no one ends up reading but the publisher -- can be a big improvement, the final embellishment may make all the difference.

So friends and family read earlier, unfinished and unpolished versions of the final draft. And it's always going to seem wanting.

I've mentioned this before, but I once read a book about Erle Stanley Gardner's writing process. (Perry Mason's creator).

The book showed an example of the first draft of a story, and I'd think: Hey, that's pretty good.

Then it would show the writer's thoughts on that draft, and the improvements he thought he should make. The second draft was twice as good as the first.

Then ...there would be a third round of improvements, and it would be even better. Often, there was that final spark that made it something special.

I've always taken this as an object lesson. It's why I welcome critique, because I can use the remarks to improve what I've done. EVEN IF I think the criticism is off base, it still helps me think about what I've done.

I'm not saying that every draft I make is an huge improvement -- in fact, there have been times when I think I've gone backward.

The real object lesson here is to not get discouraged by early drafts, or by early responses.

To value all criticism, because that gives you something to dig into. A blank wall has nothing to grab onto.

Because it may very well be that you'll vastly improve it by the end. But you can't there without starting, and starting is always going to seem wanting.

I'm over halfway through my second draft, and in a way, whether it's any good or not is still a moot point.

The real point is to make it Better. To improve it.

And then try to do it again.

That's really all I Can do: try to make it better until I can't.

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