Monday’s Writerly Quote

I attended a smaller writing conference this weekend and in attendance were the likes of Shannon Hale (Austenland), Ally Condie (Matched), and Lisa Mangum (The Hourglass Door series) to name a few. I will be posting notes from said conference later this week. I mention the conference, because a lot of the sentiment, especially from Shannon Hale, followed the quote I had selected for today from C.J. Cherryh (Downbelow Station):

It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.

I’ve heard varying opinions on the use of NaNoWriMo from love it to complete waste of time, but I tend to fall into the think it’s brilliant category. No matter how clever we think we are, our first draft is going to be closer to garbage than it is perfection. And that’s okay! Somehow many of us miss that memo on how creating an awesome novel comes mostly out of careful revision. For some reason many of us think one has to be or is born brilliant and never needs to practice their craft. Just as concert pianists aren’t people who suddenly decide that tomorrow they’ll be a perfect pianist neither can we be bestselling novelists after a first draft.

Courtesy of Daily Clip Art

Courtesy of Daily Clip Art

Shannon Hale, being a mommy, compared it to a toddler being proud of essentially, well, making poo. Yep, you made it and how wonderful, but it’s not anything anyone wants—and for a writer the key is not yet. The easiest way to look at it is to think of your story as a diamond, and the first draft is merely digging the lump out of the filthy coal. But to make it really, truly valuable it needs to be polished and cut. Sure, some might take the lump of coal off your hands, but only because they know they can take it to have it shaped and polished. There’s just too much value in a diamond presented that way. Should we want any less great a fate for our stories?

Shannon also mentioned for one of her books she had revised it more than 50 times. Yikes! 50? Okay, I’ll just stop complaining now… But if you stop and actually think about it, you know there are those sentences that you passed over as good enough, those sections you knew weren’t quite right but shrugged them off. If we’re serious about publication then we must be equally serious about polishing every single corner of our novels.

So write garbage. Get it out, get it done. And then edit it brilliantly, or using our diamond analogy: edit it to BRILLIANCE.

Do you agree with the quote? How do you feel about rough drafts? Do you let anyone read your first draft or do you have to do a little editing first? How many drafts are you currently on? Do you like revising? If so, did you always and if not what changed your mind? Let us know below.

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18 thoughts on “Monday’s Writerly Quote

  1. Wow… well I’m nearing the end of the first draft of my fist novel. And I’m excited about writing the second draft already. But 50 drafts??? I’d like to think that I ‘finish’ without needing that many revisions. There will always be more you can do to your work… but I do think that sometimes you need to just let your baby go.

  2. I typically let people read my 3rd draft because that has a lot of the major kinks out of it. My first book was edited at least 20 times, but that was an odd situation. I let people read it and then took everything they said to change the book. Then the next person didn’t like it or the same person still had issues. At one point, my first book was a horrible combination of suggestions that I barely recognized it. The second and third book each had about 7-12 editing runs. This current one is looking at less because I’m being a lot more meticulous from the beginning. Also, I’m noticing that I don’t make the same mistakes I did when I started. I catch my spelling errors and comma usage mistakes while doing the first draft.

    Personally, I like revising to a point. I feel that eventually, the author has to stop or risk making changes for the sake of making changes. I believe that a book will never reach the perfect state that an author imagines. There’s always going to be a flaw in the author’s mind, which can blind them to parts that work in the book.

  3. Good post. Well thought out, as usual! It’s always okay to write garbage. The trick is recognizing that 1) it is bad (with parts that may be great) and 2) edits are necessary. In my younger, more arrogant writing days, I rarely revised anything. That was a long time ago. Now, I revise and edit constantly (not necessarily 50 times). I’m also fortunate to have an editor/writer in my family. That speeds up the polishing part!

  4. I can’t put a number on revisions, because they’re almost always partial. If I counted every time I changed a plot point, clarified a character’s motivations or strengthened a theme… Whew. A lot! I’ve learned something from each revision, though, and I don’t regret any of the mistakes. I do think I’m getting to the point where I’m taking general advice that might not be beneficial to my story, so I’ll finish the current set of revisions and let it go to my next beta readers. I don’t want to fix things that aren’t problems. 🙂

    • Part of becoming a good writer is both accepting feedback and knowing when to reject it. In the end, it’s our story and we’ve got to stay true to it. For me it’s always a balance between ego, laziness, and a sort of revision truth.

      • Oh yes. The second time going over my manuscript, I ended up adding over 10K words. This last time I think I added a little over 5K. I get better each time I revise I think. Though it was my first completed young adult novel, not a children’s picture book, which is only 600 words, give or take. It’s definitely a learning process.

  5. I actually have yet to revise anything… but that is because I am a big believer in rewriting!!! I let close friends/family that read, read my first draft… Mostly because while some people think writing is a solitary thing, I don’t believe that. Stories are meant to be shared, and in the sharing and talking about my draft I learn so much more about it, that the story grows deeper with each sharing!

  6. I generally don’t let anyone near my rough drafts, since I know they’re bad. I only let people read my stories after they have gone through at least 3-4 complete drafts, and I know that’s just the beginning. I’ve had to get over this a bit writing a novel with Heidi though, otherwise she’d be waiting for my sections forever. 🙂

    • It only seems logical to fix everything you can before letting anyone else read it. I always think, I don’t want to waste a pair of fresh eyes on mistakes I could have fixed. But I’ll bet cowriting is a whole different ballgame with drafts.

  7. Tehe, I love this quote. So true! I’m probably part of the ‘think it’s brilliant’ group of opinions about NaNo. I mean, I’ve only done it once, and not ‘argh-must-reach-daily-wordcount’ seriously, but it’s there I keep saying “I’ll do it” [‘it’ being the various WriMo activities], but life has got in the way so far. It’s be great to hammer out the ideas I have in my head.

    Good post. I hope, one day, to give a lecture or the like to the younger students of my school talking about ‘after writing’, as such – that beyond-first-draft mindset. I think, especially, young people don’t realise the step between first draft and publishable. (Think of how many times people find out one is writing a book and say “oh, are you going to publish it?” *glare*)

    • Yep. We need to change the world, at least the starting out writer’s world to know that multiple drafts are a natural part of the process. Even when you think you’re done, you’re not.

      I think NaNo is brilliant, if that wasn’t clear. I know too many people who aren’t getting a first draft out because they have to make Chapter One good enough. Rewrites are very important, but so is getting the draft out. That’s why I like NaNo. Get the first one out and move on to perfecting it.

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