Monday, May 21, 2012

Renovations and Revisions: The Writing life

My husband and I have been renovating a boat. The boat (named Pretty Lady by my father after my mother) was the last one my father built in the early 1980s while living in Ketchikan, Alaska. After my folks’ passing, we had the boat brought from Alaska to Idaho where it underwent mechanical repairs in Coeur d’Alene to get it into good working order again, and then had it delivered to our back yard last fall where we are renovating the interior and giving the Pretty Lady a face lift, of sorts.

Working on the boat over the past few days, I couldn’t help but think of the long hours my father had worked on the Pretty Lady when he originally constructed it. He had spent hours on end welding, sawing, hammering and bolting the boat together. And now, nearly 30 years later, I (along with my husband) am spending hours on end sanding and refinishing wood, pulling up old flooring, painting, and shining aluminum, to help bring it back to life.

As this renovation process progresses, I feel like I have been mimicking a small piece of my father’s life, following one of those preset patterns in which we sometimes find ourselves repeating things we have gleaned from our parents or others.

These patterns are learned, and we follow them in all areas of our lives. In our writing lives we get these patterns from other writers as we study and learn from those who have accumulated knowledge and experience. We mimic their styles as our own style develops. We look to them for guidance, techniques, and tips for improving our writing.

Our goal for the Pretty Lady is to have it seaworthy, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing. This goal works as well for the books we write. 

Like the Pretty Lady, we need our stories to be structurally sound, mechanically correct and in good working order so that they are seaworthy when the day comes to launch them into the publishing world. We also want our books to be aesthetically pleasing. We want our book covers to garner the attention of readers; to entice them to open the front cover and begin reading. We want a comfortable interior layout that has an easy-to-read typeface with clear organization, adequate spacing and white space.

To do this, of course, takes hard work with thoughtful attention. We need to “renovate” our manuscripts again and again to make our stories as compelling as possible. We need to make sure every scene is complete, to cut what is not essential and to add what is essential. We need to revise our prose for the greatest impact on the reader. We want to fulfill our promise to our readers and to try to give them more than they expect.

There are a number of writing-related books that give us patterns for revising our manuscripts. Two I have on my shelf are Revision by David Michael Kaplan (Story Press, 1997), which is one of my favorites. Even though Revision may now be out of print, copies are still available through the Amazon marketplace.

Another book I found helpful was Manuscript Makeover (Perigee Trade, 2008) by Elizabeth Lyon, who goes into great depth about many aspects of the revision process.

A more recent publication is Crafting Novels & Short Stories (Writers Digest Books, 2012) by the Editors of Writers Digest.


Whether we self-publish or contract with a publisher, we want our manuscripts to be strong enough to weather the potential turbulence of the publishing world and have its best chance at drawing readers. And it is those who have come before us that give us that chance, whenever we are ready to climb aboard.

Bon Voyage!


elizabethbrinton said...

Thank you for the excellent tips regarding revision. I have had the great fortune to meet and work very briefly with Elizabeth Lyon who is just fantastic.
Good luck with the boat! I love the fact that you feel such a connection with your father and all the time and love he devoted to the craft. Do the things we touch hold a small part of our energy? That's what I wonder.

Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Interesting thought, Liz. Some summer day we Blogettes should anchor the Pretty Lady somewhere on Lake Pend Oreille, raise the Margarita Time flag, and discuss. :o)

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Loved this blog ! Really enjoyed how you tied you & your father's experience with the Pretty Lady to the job of a writer... & especially appreciate this reminder when you wrote "we need our stories to be structurally sound, mechanically correct and in good working order so that they are seaworthy when the day comes to launch them into the publishing world"