Friday, April 3, 2015

C is for Cool



C is for Cool in the Abcedaria of Revising

Susan Bell in her marvelous book The Artful Edit suggests that there are three types of self-editors: 1) Arrogant and blind 2) Panicked and over-reactive and 3)Pragmatic and COOL. To quote her "You consider yourself neither genius nor idiot. You edit like the French recommend exacting revenge:coldly."

And how do you keep your cool in the revising process? We write our first draft from our heart and intuition - or at least many of us that are 'pantsers' do. When I write that first (and possibly second) draft I have no idea where the story is going. I am telling myself the story and I'm telling it like a breathless adolescent tells the story of a movie she has just seen and loved. That is badly with way too many and thens going on and no discernible time line. When I enter the revision process I slow down and look at every word to see if it is carrying its weight. I move from the large view (altitude) to the minute one (forest floor). I become a metaphorical engineer constantly asking 'will this metaphor carry the weight of the meaning or not?'.

I was the designer initially - the architect with many ideas of how beautiful this bridge might become. Turrets! I exclaimed. My bridge can have turrets and flying buttresses and be like a Gaudi dream. I draw it all out and it looks fantastic - pointy bits everywhere. Then I change hats - put on my engineer hardhat and stroll down to the work-site with my clipboard and pencil. "Whoa! This bridge isn't going to carry the load it has to. Those fancy flying buttresses look good but they add way too much weight. What was that architect thinking? She'll have to save that idea for another structure - maybe a Gothic novel but not this YA one."

Okay, it is early and the metaphors are starting to slip but you get the idea. Coolness doesn't mean boring. I love the revision process. At first I didn't. I thought it was too rigid and scary but then I realized it was quite the opposite. Revising is where you get down to the real heart of your work and shine it up so everyone will see what you mean. To find that heart you must use a cool noggin.

Here's a picture of cool...from the land of cool where I live - Labrador!


10 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

It is so important to step back when you revise, isn't it, Jan? I think of the process as letting go of the connection you have to the work, and seeing it for what it really is. Only then can you make it better.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I think I've finally gotten to the point where I can edit completely objectively and coolly. The trouble with me is reading/hearing (if it's an audiobook) *published* work of mine. Then it really bothers me because I'll think of edits I'd like to have to the published work.

Hope you have a good weekend!

Chris (Mombie) said...

My brain is so keen on checking things off a list that once I've written the story it's 'done' and checked off, so I never want to edit. I have to do a big mental shift to get to the editing process.

I like your description of your process and I like your photo of cool Labrador. It's a bit warmer looking than that here on my part of the island today, but last night looked pretty much like your photo. :)

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Cool, calm and collected as my mother used to say. But first I've got to type the horrible written draft into the computer, practically closing my eyes as I do so it's so bad!!! Then I will "coolly" go after it and turn it into a ....something...hopefully a book. Happy Easter, Jan!

Liza said...

You use cool, and I use "clean." I want my words to read seamless, with no extraneous bumps or distractions. I, too, start with all sorts of mountains and rivers and potholes. When it is edit time, I get out my file and sand them all down.

Susan Scott said...

Cool noggin required; sometimes I'd prefer a hot one with a wee drap of something strong in it. Thank you for this post Jan. It's exciting to get back to the mss after a break and see with new eyes, or heart - sometimes I wonder HOW was it possible that I wrote this - sometimes good, sometimes terrible.

Jan Morrison said...

Thanks everyone - this is just the sort of community I need right now! All engaged and adding into the conversation. Because of my theme I've been dipping into my books and seeing what is there - it has me excited to get back to it but I must wait! My mentor still has it - he tells me he is looking at it now (he teaches at university so had to wait until his class was over) and I cannot wait to see what he suggests!

Hart Johnson said...

The architect/engineer metaphor is fabulous--you nailed it. Architects seem cooler than engineers, but in fact we really DON'T want our castles falling down.

bertie said...

Truthfully, I would rather edit than write a first draft. :-) I love the editing process, too.

Marion Ueckermann said...

Another interesting and challenging post. Thank you!