Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: editing

As the Project Ends

     I’m neck-deep in polishing my nearly-finished novel.

     It’s surprising how much of the first draft is, as Hemingway put it, shit.

     But as the revisions continue, the bad gets washed away and there is something shiny underneath. Something I’m proud of. Something I can stand beside and say, “Look at this thing I have made!” That’s a good feeling.

     I should be working on it right now, so I don’t have much else to say. Here’s a tiny excerpt. It’s the open paragraphs. The opening used to be a massive, gaudy info-dump of religious liturgies, boring histories and other world-building things that were sure to turn readers away. I think this is better:

     Pari’s cousin did not get a funeral.
     Her tiny body was heavy in Pari’s arms; so much heavier than it had been last month when Pari bounced the child in her arms. That had been a happy day. The child was a year old. Pari had just become the hakeena’s apprentice. Her relatives came with cakes and dates. Her parents laughed and smiled. Pari skipped around the house with her baby cousin.
     She was smaller than her brother, though the same age. Pari never wondered about that. Never wondered when the girl refused to eat. Never wondered at the way she slept so very soundly.
     She got sick two weeks later. And then she died. And she didn’t even get a funeral.
     Pari stood over the open, tiny grave alone. The Karvan said that a soul comes to a person once they are named. And the baby was a year from her naming day at least. So the family had not come to see Pari put her into the ground. She supposed she should not have wept so much over such a tiny baby. But there was no one to watch or rebuke her, so she wept freely.
     Even in the tiny grave, Pari’s cousin seemed too small. It was a long time before she began filling it in.
     The unmarked graveyard was outside the village walls. So was the real graveyard, but it was different. The real graveyard had markers and names and a tiny fence to keep spirits out. The unmarked graveyard was simple and hidden, unless you knew what you were looking for. Tiny bumps in the earth, some with dry grasses growing on them. None of them with flowers or sweets. None with any sort of marker. None with names because people with names were never buried here.
     Pari looked up and across the horizon. The sun was threatening to set. She had to fill the hole before dark, or else the child might turn into a demon or rakshasi. That’s what the elders said. Her back was to the village and she gazed south to the wastes. The wind played on the grasses and thorny bushes that grew in the hard, dry dirt. She took off her glove and rubbed the soil with her hand. It had been dark and soft when she dug the grave. It was dry now and crumbled at her touch. In the grave, her cousin waited.
     She buried her cousin before the sun set. She wanted to vow never bury a child again. But she was the hakeena’s apprentice. And she knew it would not be her last.

Revision, Rewriting, Redoing

     I finished the first draft to my second novel on October 30th. It’s a rush to hit the save button and laugh over the epic word-count.

     Now what? Print, pack and send off to the drooling masses?

     Not for a long, long time.

     I’ve compared the creative process to giving birth. It’s messy, painful, and sometimes you can’t remember why you’re doing it. But the baby at the end is always worth it. After the baby (novel) is born, what do you do with her? Do you dress her up, pat her on the head and send her off into the world? Not a chance. She’s not ready. She’s not complete. She cannot stand on her own two feet yet. So you spend the next few years raising her.    

‘The first draft of anything is shit.’ – Ernest Hemingway

     Thankfully I love rewriting and revising. I’m already halfway done my first pass. I have no idea how many passes I’ll need. It’s a great feeling to finally squeeze out the first draft. It’s an even better feeling to mark it up with red pen and turn it into the novel that it’s meant to be.

     I think a lot of people get discouraged as they write because they recognize what they’re writing is crap. The thing is, it’s supposed to be crap. The first draft is just giving birth. It’s bloody, loud and not a thing you’d invite your neighbour to be a part of. You do it in secret, or maybe with a ridiculously close person. The baby needs to be cleaned up before you trust her with extended family. And most of the world doesn’t get to play with her until you decide she’s ready.

     It’s the same with your novel. Don’t worry if it seems whiny or trite. Don’t worry about the shallow dialogue and the painfully obvious plot holes. It’s supposed to be that way. Your revisions will fix everything. Everything.

     So write that crap. You can clean it up later.