by Sean Chercover
I used to hate revising. Silly (and hard to believe now), but years ago I actually saw re-writing as some kind of failure. I was suffering under a debilitating and unhealthy idea that voiced itself in my head thusly:
“If you were a better writer, you’d have gotten it right the first time.”
As I said, a debilitating and unhealthy idea. Kerouac’s famous scroll didn’t help any (this NPR story is definitely worth a read/listen) and it was a relief to learn how much of the scroll story was a deliberately created myth.
Anyway, I hated revising and consequently wrote a lot of garbage that was in desperate need of revision.
Now I love rewriting. One of the things I’ve learned from writers with five, ten, even fifteen or more books under their belts is: The tyranny of the blank page never goes away. The blank page (or blank 350 pages) will always strike fear in the heart.
But once you’ve filled those blank pages with words, life is beautiful. You’ve got something with which to work. It has form and substance and you can see it and feel it and examine it from different angles . . .
. . . and then you can make it better. Just as there’s nothing so frightening as facing a blank page, there is nothing so energizing as facing a finished draft and diving in to make it better.
And then agent and editor look at the thing with fresh eyes and offer their comments and suggestions, and you get to play some more.
And then comes the copy-edited manuscript, which I just finished working on.
The copy-edited manuscript teaches you a lot about the little idiosyncratic quirks you have as a writer.
For example, I seem to have a compulsion to hyphenate the entire world. It would seem that, to me, any group of words looks better connected by hyphens.
It was an open-and-shut case. This house is worth two-point-four million. They were floral-print sheets. We walked side-by-side. All incorrectly hyphenated by yours truly.
And for some reason I will never understand, I missed the opportunity to hyphenate “over-the-counter” and “matter-of-factly” – both of which do (apparently) require hyphens.
Of course, one of the nice things about the copyedit is that you can tell the grammar police that you appreciate the suggestion, but you like your bad grammar and plan to keep it that way. I decided to keep my beloved hyphens for “knock-on-wood” and “creeped-out” (and a few others) even if they aren’t technically correct.
And don’t get me started on the commas. I write with WAY too many commas. I’m like a bad director trying to give line readings to my actors. I’m trying to sit on the reader’s shoulder and say “PAUSE HERE, DAMNIT”. But the problem with all these commas is, that, they, really, slow, the, pace. So on second draft, I fly through the manuscript killing commas with glee. I rip them out willy-nilly (properly hyphenated? I have no idea!) and then the thing reads much faster without them.
Well. With this book, I was perhaps a little enthusiastic with the killing of the commas, and now I’ve got the copyeditor throwing little red pencil commas all over the damn place. And I know she’s right, but I also know that we really don’t need many of these commas and they slow the read (I didn’t really need the comma before “but” in this sentence, for example, even though it is correct). For me, rhythm and pacing and readability trumps technical precision (especially in dialogue).
So the copyediting stage can be a lot of fun, but you can agonize a long time over a comma or a beloved hyphenation. And you learn about your quirks.
I am a compulsive hyphenator. Even if hyphenator isn't a word.
I love leaving off the final comma in a sentence of serial commas.
How ‘bout you? Any particular quirks you’d like to share?