Friday, October 07, 2005

Ctrl-F for Frustration, Part 2

Adjectives on a typewriter
He moves his words like a prize fighter
The frenzied pace of a mind
Inside a cell
--Cake, "Shadow Stabbing"
Earlier this week I wrote about the tedious, ego-wilting process of replacing tired words in a manuscript, and how it sucked the life out of my ability to form complete sentences or even have an original thought. At the end of the post I promised to tell how I solved this problem.

Basically, I gave up.

Not in the long run, of course. In the next draft I've got another list of tired words to pare. But I had to take a break from the minutiae to keep my sanity. You know how they say, "Don't miss the forest for the trees"? I was missing the forest for the microscopic fungi in the bark.

So I put away the microscope and went to bed. I think it's important to separate serious editing sessions from serious writing sessions with a long sleep, if possible.

The next day (Monday) I rewrote a couple of scenes I'd been putting off and finally finished an acceptable third draft--or rather, a version 2.1. This I printed out and read Tuesday. My goal was to sniff out continuity errors resulting from the numerous substantial changes made over the last three weeks.

For example, one entire subplot had been rewritten, and subplots like to stretch their tentacles into distant sections of the book. If I changed one scene, sometimes three other scenes had to be changed, and so on, until I began to worry I'd ruined the whole thing.

However, this read-through boosted my spirits, for even though it was my third time reading the book, it held my attention from the first to last page. Which brings us to the forest: the story itself. If you can create compelling characters who encounter and overcome obstacles in a believable yet inspiring way, a few bits of fungus here and there aren't going to decimate the entire ecosystem.

However, the better I know the novel, the more I see its flaws. This happens. When you read your novel's first draft, you feel elated. You created something with a beginning, middle, and end that actually makes sense. You brought a new world to life. You are the greatest storyteller who ever lived. Yippee!

Savor this feeling, because it will fade with familiarity. Creative euphoria cannot survive the scrutiny of each word, sentence, and scene. In short, your self-infatuation will kneel before the diabolical power of Ctrl-F.

But in the end, writing is about giving the reader a great experience, not about making the author feel good. That's what beer is for.


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