Every Sunday night at six o’clock, for the nine months of my freshman year at The Citadel, some of the most hated words in the English language bounced off the walls of Murray Barracks. As we knobs formed up, the upperclassmen would prowl the galleries hollering, “The party’s over, knobs!” Those words still make me cringe. But, cringe I must. The rough draft of Mammon is written. The story is told. Now the story must be told well. The party’s over, knobs! It’s time for rewrites.
The first bit of work has been pretty easy. I’ve reviewed the notes from my critique groups – that would be the picture below – and moved the comments I want to use to a single copy of the manuscript. Now I have something I can work with. Making those changes on the computer will get me back into the story and help me see what changes I need to make. Then comes a read-through, and then the polishing. I edit in stages, and each stage requires a different tool.
For the first edit, usually getting a chapter ready to read to a critique group, I use a chainsaw to cut away the obvious crap. Then I use a machete to finish the big stuff. Next comes a meat cleaver, and then some polishing. At that point, it’s ready to read to a group, hopefully. I’ll use something like a steak knife for the next edits, then move to a scalpel for the more meticulous cuts. Finally, it’s time to polish, and I’ll usually start with an eighty-grit sandpaper and move slowly to a two-twenty grit before finishing with a soft cloth and some Brasso.
One day, I’ll decide it’s polished enough to send out to the first beta readers. It will probably take them about a month to read and make comments, but it will seem like years. Their observations will provide the basis of a new round of editing, and it will probably go to a second round of readers. After another month (year), it will be time to put the finishing touches on the piece and send out the query letters.
The question is when is it when is it ready to send out? It’s never really finished, but at some point, I’ll have to put Mammon, with all its imperfections, in front of a bunch of agents. How good do I want it to be before I do that? The standard answer, I think, is, “As good as I can make it.” But look at the title of this blog, and you should be able to figure out all on your own how I feel about that. I want readers to have such strong mental pictures they don’t remember if they read the book or saw the movie. I want the most serious reader to laugh, and the silliest reader to cry. I want every reader to rush to the end to see what happened, and then cuss me for not making it longer.
That’s a pretty tall order, and much beyond my capabilities right now. I’ll keep polishing, though, until I can’t stand working on it anymore. Then, I’ll polish some more and finally send it out. It won’t meet the standards I want at that point. With any luck, I’ll find an agent who sells the manuscript, and I’ll get to work with an editor who can help me get closer to that goal.
Right now, I’m looking at what I’ve got to work with, and it all seems like an impossible fantasy. Where’s that chainsaw?