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On Reviewing Your Manuscript: The Marble Statue (Once Again)

I started the week with a story about learning to program, about learning the difference between typing computer code into a machine and actually writing a game. The difference (in case you skipped the story) is called “debugging.”

And that’s where we are now with our novels. November’s done, our first draft is done, and we’re ready to talk about revisions, editing, rewrites. We’re ready to debug our first drafts. We’re ready (returning to a different metaphor) to start converting a boring block of marble into a priceless work of art.

Getting Started (Again)

One of the things I’ve learned in this business is that there’s an awful lot of starting, and not really very much getting finished. Back in October you started this book with some detailed prewriting.

Then in November you started this book with daily writing that began at the top of page one. Now it’s time for us to get started making a statue — unless, of course, you already got started last week by making a plan. Even if you did, it’s time to get started on that again.

And we’re still nowhere close to getting done.

As I said last week, I recommend several stages of revision. And the key to them — to every one of them — is reading your book.

I know you wrote the thing. You just wrote it. That doesn’t change a thing, though. It’s a big solid block of marble. It’s dense and inscrutable. It’s a world of mystery, waiting for discovery.

Finding Your Flaws

You’re probably a step ahead of me here, but in case you missed it…those are all euphemisms for “it’s bad.” It’s flawed. It’s promising, but it isn’t there yet. Your job is to get it there. To find the flaws, to smooth the rough edges, to shape it into what it needs to be.

The first step of the process is an inspection. A review. The first step is simply to read your book, cover to cover.

Don’t make any changes yet. It will be tempting, but restrain yourself. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten two chapters into a review, realized I missed a chance to introduce some critical bit of information, spent an hour or two reworking the scene…and then read on to find I’d already done it (better) five pages later.

That’s what I meant earlier about the “big solid block of marble.” The mystery. A 50,000-word novel is a lot to keep track of. It’s too big to hold in your head — especially if you’ve been actively writing new bits at the same time.

Now don’t get me wrong — there are perfect opportunities that you missed. There’s critical information left out. Just don’t trust your memory to tell you where it is. Do yourself a favor, and give the book one review to find out. It will save you a lot of effort along the way.

Making It Shine

The good news is, there’s a happy surprise or two in store for you, too. There are elements of the book that are better than you could imagine. Right along with the missed opportunities, there’s flashes of brilliance. There’s genius in there.

And that is the first hint at the shape of the statue you’re going to make. You’re going to bring those pieces to a perfect shine. In fact, you’re going to make the whole book look like that.

It all starts with just sitting down and reading it. Have fun.

One Response to “On Reviewing Your Manuscript: The Marble Statue (Once Again)”

  1. Courtney Cantrell says:

    I haven’t finished my first draft yet — but now that the craziness of NaNoWriMo has passed, I *am* allowing myself to read occasional bits and pieces of the book when I open the document and skim down to where I need to start writing.

    Zounds, that was a horrible, horribly long sentence.

    Anyway, so far I have found: more horrible sentences, some hideous phrasing, out-of-character dialogue, a couple of amusing typos–

    –and a few places that made me go, “Ooooh, that’s good!”

    I press on with the first draft. Can’t wait to start carving that statue. 🙂