Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Don't Over-Work Your Manuscripts - You will likely screw it up

I love my cooking shows. When I am at home, (and I know that is pretty infrequent with three kids) I will often have on the Food Network. I learn a lot of things from those shows that really translate to the business of writing as well as to general living. Just recently, one of the shows was doing some recipe and the chef was noting how over-working it will really screw up the dish. I don't remember what the meal was, but in the end, the meal would become chewy, lose it's flavor, the texture would be all wrong and, in the end, the meal would become inedible.

Now think of your writing. Some writers simply cannot stop "editing and reworking" their stories. They are always fiddling with the darn thing - constantly tweaking a scene, adding a new scene, deleting another scene, changing the dialogue, and essentially wordsmithing the thing to death. There are many authors who do this so much their stories take forever to finish. Sure, they justify what they are doing by saying things such as "I want to take my time and make this right" or "it's just not quite ready." In reality, what is likely happening is the story that was OK is now turning into a huge mess.

I know how this happens. For many authors, it is an issue of being a "pantster" and not a "plotter". In other words, they don't want to "lose their voice and become "lifeless in their writing" so they let their story "grow organically". Now don't get me wrong, I know that some people can do that, but, what writers on the outside fail to understand is that those writers doing it successfully know exactly where they are going to and how they want to get there. The roadmap might not be firmed up but their heads see a beginning, middle and an end. Today is a good example of that. I don't have an outline of this blog and it is indeed creating itself as I go; HOWEVER, I do know what I want to say and I know the "take-away" from this blog.

If you are a writer that is attempting this style of writing and really don't have a clear vision of the entire story, the odds are you are only seeing it in small fragments and pieces. This is now just a series of scenes, dialogue and plot events that may or may not really be connected together successfully. When you edit, the odds are you are still seeing it in the same way. When you have this approach, you have really deconstructed the story so much that a unified concept is just not going to be there. If you start editing with this approach, the thoughts you have when working on any given scene may not be consistent with those you had the prior day when working on another scene. Now something "doesn't seem right" so you start to tweak it and over-work it.

The second issue that will often cause this problem are authors who are constantly looking for feedback from other people. Again, don't get me wrong. I do think it is important to get that feedback, but, if you go back and rework the story after every piece of feedback you get, you will end up with an inconsistent story. We really see this from people who are constantly entering stories into contests (the same thing happens when they submit their story to a lot of different editors and agents). When the feedback comes back, they immediately set to work "fixing" the story,

I am sort of afraid to use this reference for fear you will all be singing it all day now, but I am going to. There is a time when you simply have to "Let it go, let it go...." Let the story be what it is supposed to be.

I remember when I was learning to do pen and ink drawings from my grandfather. I learned a lot from those weekends with him as we would draw and paint. He told me the same thing one day. You can spend hours working on a painting or a drawing, but there will come a time when if you put in one more stroke, or one more line, it is simply too much. You have ruined the picture. When the picture is done, simply put it aside, pull out a new piece of paper or canvas, and start a new one. Those ideas you wanted to do to the completed picture can become the foundation of the new piece of art.

Consider doing the same thing with your writing.

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