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.
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.