Today as I embark on the writing day, I'm thinking about polishing, and the difference between polishing, revising and editing.
They are very different to me, although I don't know if others see or handle them differently. Revising is mostly about the story being told, whether it makes sense, whether it's compelling, fresh and interesting. Sometimes I'll write a story and it's a fine little story. I'm sure many who would read it would said, "Wow, you can really write. I enjoyed that."
They might be lying because they're friends or relatives or all around nice people, who don't want to damage the fragile writer's ego, or they may be sincere. I take a harder look at it, myself, demanding something more, trying for something more. Mostly this is learned; there are limited markets and tremendously talented, creative and inventive writers out there, so the story must rise above being a 'nice story' or 'good story' in some memorable way. I'm hunting for the story that you put down and continue to think about. That's what revising is all about: improving the story and creating tension. Along with that, do I cop out somewhere, sum up that something happened and skip happily along, fa la la, the end? And is the question raised at the beginning answered by the end? I enjoy it most when one question is immediately raised and answered but I've then raised several other questions that the reader wants answered.
Editing, though, is more about the mechanics of grammar and rules, as well as logic and story gaps. Does what I write in the first page hold true throughout the story's telling? If not, is the shift or difference explained? Can the reader understand what I was conveying? Am I being too brief and skimping on exposition or smothering the tension with too much exposition or being too obtuse? This is also about maintaining the same POV, or, if the POV shifts, ensuring that the POV shift fits within the story's logic.
Polishing, though, means I've solved everything I've seen in the first two stages. I'm satisified with the plot, story, tension and characters. Now funny enough, in polishing, I'm sharpening - verbs, expressions, and story. Here is where I think harder, did I just show the reader something and then explain it to them?
All of these phases have a different life. That first stage of writing is about writing down the bones, as Goldberg said, capturing the idea's essence, expanding on it, opening my veins to let the story flow out. I know from experience that it's rare that I write from beginning to end and discover the story I envisioned is the one that I told. I tend to be a simple thinker, and then ask why and add layers. That's what that first part is about.
The second part can easily regress back into the first phase. For while I'm answering the question, does the reader understand, have I told enough or too much, is the POV maintained, I'll often discover something that sends me back to re-think my approach. It's common for me to finish the first phase of writing the story, set it aside for several days to let it go cold, and then return to it for the second stage. Yet, afer contemplating that, it's interesting how the story stays in my thoughts and sometimes, even though the writing phase is complete, I'll hear, read or see something that prompts me to return to the story. It's as though, on a subconscious level, I've recognized a gap, and have continued working on it.
The final phase, polishing, often takes several days to weeks. When I'm satisfied with it, I'll set it aside, let it go cold, and then return to it, print it out, and walk around, reading it aloud or even backwards. That helps me sharpen my focus by forcing me to think through the words more deeply, and with it, the attendant story telling.
I've sold six short stories. In half, I wrote the stories and found little revising, editing and polishing required. With the rest, I extensively re-wrote; my first sale, I realized I'd completely missed, tossed it all aside, and then wrote the story starting from a blank screen. The re-write required little editing, revising and polishing.
As I've posted before, these phases all have a different person within me managing the controls, from the writer as an author, the writer as a reader, the reader as a writer, the reader as a reader, to the editor and taskmaster. Sometimes it's necessary to shut one several of them up and tell them, "I know, I know, just let me get this part done, I'll fix it later." Later always comes.
But eventually there comes a time when I polish the story and there's nothing left that I see. It's painful, then and surprising, that it's rejected. Yet, that's the difference between the creative and business side. I may never know why a story is rejected and there are so many reasons beyond the story itself that can cause rejection. Best is when someone tells you why, or write something like, "This doesn't work for us but it's an excellent story and I hope you submit it elsewhere." Even better, as I once experienced, is when they write, "This isn't what we want to publish right now, but (magazine, editor or publisher X) is looking for stories like this. I suggest you submit it to them."
Then, depressing and angst inspiring, is that rejection, after waiting for months to a year, when you receive a rejection and they tell you, "After much thought, we've decided to pass on your story, (X). But we love your work. Please submit again."
That memory stays sharpest. As I polish, I wonder, what does it take for you to love my work and publish it?
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com