Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Always learning more

It's been at least a year since I looked at my science fiction. When I put it down, I knew it needed work but I was fairly confident in the plot and the action. Well, I'm still confident in the action, but the work it needs is glaringly obvious now.

That's not unusual. If you haven't already heard the advice: you should put a story down for a while and work on something else, then come back to it with fresh eyes.

When I was writing in high school, I did all my revising on paper with a red pen and every single manuscript came away looking like a murder scene. Didn't matter how many drafts there had already been, it seemed. Red ink everywhere, rewriting, adding, deleting useless paragraphs.

My dad said it was because I'd learned so much more about writing since the last revision pass. Which was true.

It's also because when the story is fresh in your mind, you remember exactly what you meant to put on the page. Which isn't necessarily what got onto the page, of course. Things are always lost, in converting vivid hallucinations into little black symbols, but you're always learning new ways to translate.

These days, my revisions aren't so drastic as back in high school. There are a lot of reasons for that: awkward sentences get re-worked in progress, useless paragraphs don't get written in the first place, my outline and scene notes keep me on target, and my awareness of the vocab I'm using is much sharper. When my gut tells me something, it's easier to figure out what it's saying and whether I should trust it. (This has applications outside of writing.) All of that is the result of years of practice, years of writing, and there's no other way to earn those.

And after all these years of writing, I'm still learning the craft. Frankly, I hope I never feel like I've mastered it. If I did, I'd have to assume it would mean I've fallen into a rut or gotten my head stuck up my ass.

So I've been looking at the science fiction I put down a year ago and thinking about how to apply what I learned in the process of writing Disciple to it. I'm thinking this will be a murder-scene-level revision; time to get out that chainsaw.

What's the longest you've put a story down for? How did it look when you came back?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I put one down for thirty years. Yes, a complete rewrite was in order.

JA Grier (ee/em/eir) said...

I also put one down for many years. But along with the substantial editing, there was also quite a bit of "hey, that still works." And it is so much fun to read old writing to both laugh at yourself and occasionally praise yourself, too. Still, I'd suggest a year is a good maximum, otherwise, it can be easy to get caught up in new projects and never get the old ones finished.
Fictional Planet

blankenship.louise said...

30 years -- heh, this past Christmas, while at my parents' house, I pulled out one of those old high school manuscripts. There was a lot of wincing as I skimmed through it, but my brain still started burbling over how to fix it. :)

Liz A. said...

I'd have to look (I date things as I work, so I could actually look this up...if I was near my files), but I think it'd only be a year or two.

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