The almost final draft

In January, I spent the month plodding through my edits to the manuscript of Dog of the Dead, the first book in the next series.

This stage is both curiously satisfying and thoroughly discouraging.

The procedure is consistent: I print out a copy of the book, and then I read it aloud to myself, thus finding all the curious typos, repeated words, illogical fragments that were left over from another revision, and dead spots, and then I make all the changes, chapter by chapter, a little bit every day.

It’s a satisfying activity for a number of reasons. First, the manuscript has reached the stage where it’s worth it to find the minor errors, and that’s encouraging. It gives me hope. Before this stage, if I do too much tidying up, inevitably the section I just corrected ends up getting rewritten, if not removed.*

The second reason the final edit is satisfying is that I get to use my fountain pens. I like writing with a fountain pen. A nice thin wet purple line, or red, or green, glides onto the paper from a beautiful instrument, and the annotated marks and notes are decorative and pleasing. Look at all my lovely markings, I think. Handwriting, to me, is a purest form of writing, and I have taught myself to write in a moderately pleasing cursive that makes me feel like an ancient scribe.

The third reason it’s satisfying is that it’s as absorbing as plucking stray hairs, which is a gross image, I know. But when you end up with something pleasing and symmetrical like a tidy eyebrow, it gives you the illusion that everything else about your face (or the manuscript) is perfectly fine. Look at that damn eybrow! It is a thing of beauty! I have a thing of beauty on my face, even if it is the middle of winter and I otherwise resemble a gecko!

The discouraging thing is that when you read this way, it’s obvious that everything is not fine, and that you were a fool to think the book was in acceptable condition. Reading sentences slowly, whether you’re marking the page or making the edits, takes away the headlong pleasure of gulping a story. You realize that your characters are dawdling, that your plot points don’t make sense, that you didn’t foreshadow something essential, and that there is no way in hell you can wedge foreshadowing in anywhere now, without rewriting the horrid thing. And you’re thoroughly tired of it by now.

Therefore, after the final edit, I print the whole thing out once again, and I put it aside to age, like cheese. Even though the words will not change, I know that a few days later, it will suddenly be readable again, and I will see the very few obvious things that need to be tweaked.

My wonderful designer, Jess Johnson, has done me up some concepts that use the general design of the Ways of Magic series but are clearly appropriate for the new series, so that yes, they are by the same author, but no, they aren’t exactly the same. She’s going to get me the finals soon. But she’s very busy at her other job, so I’m not afraid I will get the covers too soon. The book can hybernate for a few days.

Does that mean I get to rest? No. Apparently not. I have been vaguely thinking about what I wanted to write next, and instead of going on to the second book in the new series (though the manuscript is already in rough draft), apparently I have started another book in the Ways of Magic series.

I usually start with a character and a sort of scene.

The character is a small and unobtrusive person, and the scene is when a very important person comes in the front door and treats her as if she was nobody at all. Somehow, that was enough to allow my brain to come up with magic fabric, a house at the pole of a planet in a wide lawn, a ring of fire, a family of self-absorbed artificers, and an underground shop with a bumpkin suitor.

I have finished writing for today, and I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow.

I know writers tell you and tell you that writing isn’t fun, but I don’t think anyone would write if that was really true for all of us all the time. Parts of it are disagreeable, I can confirm, but really writing is like dreaming. Sometimes the dreams are bad, sometimes they are repetitive and meaningless, sometimes you forget them right away and good riddance, but often they are gloriously odd and satisfying. I will continue to dream.

*That’s one of the reasons, when I taught English and I used to mark early student drafts, that I never made nitpicky corrections, unless there was a word they consistently misspelled. If a student had that problem, I caught up with them in person and told them about it. Mostly, on first drafts, I attended to meaning, organization, and sticking to the point, and it would have been terribly unfair to tell them to fix the errors in paragraphs I was telling them to delete. It wasn’t until the final draft that I noted the minor things, and even then I usually just put a check-mark in the margin, meaning they should find the error themselves and correct it.

I often had a line of students at my desk asking me what a few of the checkmarks meant. That was okay because generally they had already corrected most of the stuff independently, instead of depending on a teacher to “make it bleed.” Too many English teachers think students will learn from gallons of red ink. They never have and they never will. They look at all your careful corrections, and they feel discouraged, toss the paper in the trash, and then get snippy about the grade. No, you have to make them edit their work themselves.

I didn’t do that with every kid. Sometimes I told them to take their drafts to the learning specialist. Sometimes I told them to get a friend or a parent to read it aloud to them so they could catch their mistakes themselves. I wanted my students to use all the tools and services that were available to them instead of trying to hide from them. Parents often coach children to hide from assistance, fearing that getting help means being perceived as flawed. As a person with ADHD, I am all too familiar with the feeling that one is supposed to struggle in isolation. But the idea is to produce independent writers, not passive ones. All that happens with lots of red ink is that students grow up and turn into grammar bullies themselves, because that’s how they think the world works.

2 thoughts on “The almost final draft

  1. Rhonda says:

    The comment on cheese made me laugh. Are some drafts more Brie-like and others an extra-sharp cheddar?

    Looking forward to a new series and revisiting an old friend.

    A side question: do you like comments back on your blog? I can see it being fun or not fun depending on the reason(s) for writing the blog. For what it’s worth, I enjoy reading them and pop in from time to time to see what fresh musings have appeared.

  2. DMT says:

    Hi! I do very much like comments back on my blog, but obviously this month I have been Absolutely Elsewhere or I would have seen your comment! Most drafts are not Brie but shredded pizza cheese into which some cat food crumbs have fallen, in my experience.

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