Brief recap: I am not a writer. Yet for some reason, I have undertaken to write a science fiction trilogy. It’s something I never considered doing. One day I got an idea and began. I completed the first book in October 2015. I finished my first full read through by February 2016. I gave it to my wife (an avid fantasy/sci-fi fan) to read and she’s about 2/3 of the way through it.
Now, the purpose of my wife’s review is as a macro edit. I wanted her to focus on the big issues like:
- Is reading this story a chore?
- Do I hate it?
- Is it a hack job?
- Why are you putting me through this?
We’re not so far as doing the nitty gritty grammar/punctuation stuff. We mark it when we see it. So far she seems to find the story compelling enough to want to find time to read it and I’ve spotted her rapidly paging through some of the more exciting sections at a healthy pace.
So, assuming the basic story is good, she’s reading for tone, perspective, continuity and clarity.
Tone: was this a serious scene that you injected too much humor into or vice versa? Was the mood correct for the situation?
Perspective: This story is written in third-person limited omniscient. Did you deviate from this? If so, was it justified?
Continuity: Did the tone stay consistent from scene to scene? Did your characters maintain their personalities? Did they act according to how you’d written them?
Clarity: Can I understand this story? Are there elements you failed to sufficiently explain? I’m finding that this one is an area I have to work on. The story is in the author’s head, so he/she will know what they’re talking about even if they fail to adequately convey it. The good news is it’s an easy fix. When someone reads the manuscript dry, they know what they understand and what they don’t. And they can tell you. And then you can fix it.
I’ve outlined Book II and even begun writing it, but I’m distracted by my desire to edit and sharpen Book I. I’d intended to wait until my wife finished with her read-through, but I couldn’t help myself. Now, before you say, “Chris, that’s a bad idea. You should hear her perspective before you go changing things up!” Let me say, I agree with you for the most part.
But this is when the title of this blog post comes in. I went back to the start of Book I and realized there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that I saw an immediate need for more heavy editing. The good news is I was able to see an immediate need for more heavy editing. Hemingway knew this:
They say you need to step away from your work and come back to it. I know this to be true from the art/painting side of my life. It is way truer in writing. Can something be “way truer?”
Yes. Yes it can.
Anyway, my ability to see giant chunks of fat that need trimming has improved drastically. I thought I’d already done it when I did my big “hard edit” from October to February. I mean, I did a great deal of trimming during that first go. But I was in the woods, so to speak. Leaving the forest and coming back to it a month later was like returning with Paul Bunyan’s axe. And napalm.
Sentences or passages I’d viewed before as beautiful prose were actually parasitic balls of lard. Parasitic because they took away from the story, lard because I needed to lose them. Kind of like that last analogy.
You practice, you get better. Malcolm Gladwell says if you spend 10,000 hours at anything, you’ll be an expert. That’s a long time and I’m not close. But I’ve personally witnessed the benefit of practice with my art (going from fairly rubbish to being hired for album and book covers), and I’m seeing it with my writing. The trajectory is more steep with my writing since I’m still new to it. But I am getting noticeably better and it’s an amazing feeling. The journey is both discouraging and encouraging in the same moment: you realize how far you have to go, but acknowledge how far you’ve come.
I don’t know the answer to the question posed in my post title, but I’m going with greater than 10.
Cliff’s notes: napalm; lard.