Some stuff I’ve learned while revising AUT

Creative post title, right? I know. Don’t be jealous of my skizzills.

Suzanne left me a really kind comment yesterday night, saying I would be interested to read more about what you believe made that extra 50% improvement in your writing after you left the academic environment…was it simply reading good books and writing everyday?…I would like to hear more about what has worked for you in improving your writing.

I think this is a really great question, but I want to give it a little bit more thought before answering, so that I can be clear and concise while doing so. I’ll get back to it, I promise!

I was just thinking this morning about some things I just recently learned while revising AUT that might be helpful to anyone going through a revision cycle or what have you and I thought I would share.

  • Number One: If it makes you cringe, take it out. Okay, this might sound self-evident, but–and here I can only speak for myself, not other writers, although other writers are welcome to chime in here–sometimes I leave stuff in that I don’t even like to read myself. I think there are a lot of reasons for doing so. Maybe you think it’s essential to the plot, or maybe (and this relates to problem two) you’re setting up a line or a joke that you just don’t want to get rid of. I think in a lot of cases this probably has to do with dialogue–you need to get certain ideas across in dialogue between your characters, but it comes out clunky and awkward. I’m telling you, ditch it. If it makes you cringe, it should not be in there. I did this a lot the other day. There is an entire part of the plot that revolves around a series of letters a character receives and I included an example of one of the letters in the book. I have always hated it because it reads terribly, and even though it’s supposed to be a terribly written, melodramatic letter I was very self-conscious about it from the moment I wrote it. Finally, I just took it out. I decided that I could describe perfectly well what the letters contained, how they were written, etc., without having to include an example. And I’m SO relieved at that decision. Of course, my agent hasn’t seen the draft without the letter–she might ask me to put it back in, thinking we DO need to illustrate it–but I suspect not, since she wondered in her revision letter whether or not we needed any outside writing examples (there are a few more peppered throughout the novel, but from different sources, and they serve different purposes, and I’m fine with all of these so I left them). Seriously, you can’t imagine the weight off. So I say here, from my own experience alone, that if you hate something it is probably not SO essential to the plot or characterization or dialogue or backstory or ANYTHING that the work can’t do without it. Some other part that you don’t cringe to read can probably take on the weight of whatever it was that scene or dialogue or, in this case, letter was so flimsily supporting.
  • Number Two: It doesn’t have to be joke joke joke joke joke. I don’t know if anybody else has this problem–this could just be my book, or my characters, or (most likely), me–but I feel as though my characters have to be quick-witted and sharp pretty much 100% of the time. It’s what makes them unique and interesting, but also what makes them tedious. When I got to, literally, the last couple pages of the MS, I saw this piece of dialogue that made me cringe and I was like, “Why is this here?” Then I realized it was because it was the set-up for a joke that, in the end, wasn’t even that funny. So of course I cut it, because I’ve learned something (see number one). But it was also illustrative of another point, which is that sometimes, people can just say stuff–it doesn’t have to be a witty remark. Or, in this case, they don’t have to say it–I took the whole joke out, and in the process removed a piece of information that I think is implied. I have a coworker who is pretty sarcastic and a couple nights ago we were talking about how he was “afraid” of me when I started at the office because I was more sarcastic than him. I protested, and he was all, “You have a sharp tongue!” That’s so true. Not that I’m particularly smart or funny, but I have a retort to pretty much anything anyone says. I’m constantly making jokes, and I think that mostly has to do with the fact that most of my best friends are exactly like that, and we’re always doing some sort of routine. I know, how annoying, right! But, I mean, when we tone it down people think it’s pretty funny, and so do we, which is why we do it, but my point is that I probably give a lot of that to my characters and I really tried this time around (and I think I’ll do it in my final sweep this weekend) to take out jokes I didn’t need. The key is moderation. Also, simplicity. If the joke is too complicated, it probably isn’t worth the payoff.

Okay, that’s all I have for today I think. I’m sure I’ll learn way more stuff in the future. This, of course, is not Gospel at all–it’s all very AUT-specific, although I think the advice of taking out or at least rewriting things that make you cringe has some value for anybody. I guess the point of that bit is not to rationalize bad writing, because you can do better (or at least you can take it out so that nobody but you knows that it ever existed).

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