It’s common Writer’s Wisdom to take a breather after finishing a rough draft and get some distance from it so you can reread with “fresh eyes.” I don’t know if it’s really possible to reread your own work objectively, but at least if you set the draft aside for a while, you can cleanse your palate before the second course. Then maybe you can taste the spots where you’ve overdone the spices or left out some crucial ingredient.
I’m heading toward the finish line with the rough draft of one of my novels, and because I’ve been here before, my mind is already chewing on revisions. I always want to jump straight from “The End” back to the beginning without cooling off for a few days. But when I finish my current rough, I intend to leave my novel’s world for a while and cleanse my palate – or my neglected house – before returning to the novel to see just how rough my rough draft is. Then I’ll start the edits. Not the fine details of line editing yet. I won’t search for missing commas, misspelled words, or funky grammar. That comes later. The first revisions will center on the big picture, because my first revisions might be better described as re-writes.
Rereading a rough draft means coming to terms with what I wrote, seeing it for what it is and what it is not. If I read with my mind and heart open, my rough story will tell me what it needs. So on the first read-through, I’ll ask three basic questions:
1) Dear Rough Draft: Why did I write you?
In other words, what was my intention when I started this project? What I’m looking for is the nugget of gold that excited me about the story in the first place. Sometimes my intention changes during the writing process, or I discover that the nugget was fool’s gold. If so, what excites me about the story now? Then I look deeper: As a whole, where does the novel disappoint me? Where does it thrill me? Where does it bore me? If I can answer these questions honestly, I’ll know where to revise (or rewrite as the case may be).
2) Dear Rough Draft: What are you hiding?
Rereading a rough draft gives me the opportunity to spot helpful elements that I didn’t see as the story was going onto the page. Like themes that I didn’t know I included. Or objects that have become symbols (objective correlatives for you lit majors). Or connections between characters. While my conscious mind was distracted by how to write a particular scene, my subconscious mind may have planted within that scene the most important reasons for my story’s existence. Why is it important to find these elements? Themes that bubbled up naturally may turn out to be the crux of the story. In rewrites I can bring out those themes. I can use symbolic objects to their best advantage. I can strengthen “accidental” connections between characters.
3) Dear Rough Draft: Where is your emotion?
I’m not looking just for characters’ ups and downs, but for the “hot spots” in the novel. Where are they? What emotions did I write into the story? Which scenes leave me flat? Which scenes grab my heart? Do I need more emotion? (I rarely need less.) It sounds simplistic, but it’s true: If my novel doesn’t grab my own heart, it will never grab the reader’s heart. Humor, grief, anger, fear, delight – it’s emotion that keeps us turning pages.
What about getting feedback from an outside reader? Since I believe in seriously considering every criticism leveled at my novels, outside opinions play an important role in my revision process. After all, honest critique led to the publication of my first novels, and I can’t be more grateful for that. But I’ve also learned that sometimes an outside reader’s comments are just plain wrong. To complicate matters, even when critique is spot on, my natural tendency is to defend what I’ve written, to refuse to believe that the dialogue is stiff or that I need to delete the first three chapters. Weighted by this tendency to defend myself, how do I know whether a particular critique is right or wrong? I know because I’ve asked my “Dear Rough” questions. Critique that’s right will ring true to my answers to those questions. So the first reread is my own.
Coming to terms with your rough draft really means coming to terms with yourself, because only one person put those words on that page. Re-vision means facing the gap between what you intended to do and what you actually did. Which is not unlike facing the realities of real life choices. Except real life, while rough, is not a draft. Still it’s best to come to terms with both and to look ahead with re-vision in mind.
So whether you’re coming to terms with a rough draft or with real life, I wish you the best.
Happy Writing! Happy Reading!
© 2013 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy morguefile.com