Monday, May 22, 2006

Under the Surgeon's Pen

By Heather Justesen

I'm making plans for major reconstructive surgery—-a process that is becoming familiar to me. I can see the changes in my mind's eye and know exactly how everything's going to look when I'm done. No, I haven't been in an accident and I'm not in need of a nose job. I'm not
even on a diet, well, maybe a little one.

I'm not the one that will look different when finished—my story is.

I picked up an old manuscriptlast week and began reviewing it. I'm changing a sentence here, a paragraph there, but mostly I'm making notes of the strengths and weaknesses. The margins are full of notes for new a subplot I'm adding and new circumstances I've put my character into.
This isn't the first major reconstruction I've done on this story, I think it's number three. I've haven't seen the manuscript in over a year and though I remember the basic storyline, there are surprises around every corner. I can't say the book is the best I've ever worked on, but it has potential to be so much more than it is.

You may say that editing isn't much like major surgery, but when it comes to my writing, I'm the best surgeon around—for my books. I'm the only one who can see the final picture the way it is supposed to be. No one but me can rewrite this story and get it exactly right,
because the book is mine. And while others who point out the story's strengths and weaknesses may have a big influence on the final product, it is still mine.

Over the past couple of years I have learned a lot about writing. I've had a professional editor bleed on a couple of my manuscripts, and a few critiques as well. I've gotten rejections from publishers. All of this has made it so I can look at my story a lot more objectively than I once did and I'm hoping it will make all the difference in the end.

Writing is a continual learning process. I've spoken to writers with multiple books in the market who say they still learn new things about writing with every new book, with every critique and with every class they sit in on. I will probably never know everything there is to know about writing, but every new page I write gets me closer to my eventual goal—getting the book published.

So I'll make notes to whittle and trim, reshape and redirect and when I get back to this book down the road—it is the fourth in a series with the first one about to get a final polish—I'll be ready to implement the ideas and make it the best story possible.

This surgery may not be physically painful, but I know in the end the emotional pain of rewriting will all be worth it.

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