Monday, April 15, 2013

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling: Rule #8--Be Honest With Yourself About Revising

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

A number of principles are wrapped up in this one, and it covers some tough stuff:

1) Finish the story. That’s so important. If you finish it, you’re already ahead of a lot of writers. Be determined and see it through. Don’t get bogged down revising the first 50 pages if you haven’t finished it. Finish the draft, then revise. Losing determination is easy if you start revising before you’ve finished.

2) After revisions, let it go. Let it go out to beta readers and let it sit on your shelf while you gain some distance. Of course, revise thoroughly, but keep in mind there’s a point where you can’t really do anything more to your manuscript. When I finished my adult fantasy novel, I knew there were areas that probably needed work, but I wasn’t sure if my feeling was accurate, I couldn’t see how to make the changes or even if they were necessary, and tinkering with minor changes weren’t going to help. I had done all I knew to do. I let it go.

3) Move on and do better next time. Why? Because a writer needs to build his skills. He needs to try something new, get out of the box he’s been in, and use what he learned writing story 1 to write story 2. I drafted MOON RIVER, and it was such a joy to start something completely different. Thinking about new characters, new plotlines, new themes, and all these new possibilities was inspiring. And guess what? Moving on had an interesting side effect. I gained the distance and some of the skills necessary to see the issues with my adult novel. With another set of revisions- ones I’m excited to make- I think it could be unique enough to make it in a crowded market. Moving on isn’t giving up, and sometimes it’s best for everyone.

4) No book is perfect. I’d argue some of them are, but that’s just me being the enthusiastic fan I am. Obviously, make your story as close to perfect as you can, never query anything less than your best work, and don’t use this rule as a crutch.  If you suspect the beginning is too slow and your antagonist is flat, they probably are. Don’t leave those things, because your book probably won’t make it with them and you’ll just end up taking longer to get where you want to go. Do the work, learn the skills, revise, get critiques, revise, get tougher critiques, revise. Just keep in mind endlessly scrolling through 300 pages to pick over word choice and changing sentence structures three times may not be making anything better, and it can actually become a reason to delay querying. Sometimes, revisions don’t make a book better, they just make it different.

All of this requires a good deal of being honest with yourself. Develop your instinct by reading great books and breaking them down to see what works and what doesn’t, and then trust your instinct. Are you done revising? Do you need distance to really tell? Do you need to move on to something new for now? Are you endlessly revising because you don’t want to jump into the query trenches yet? It’s tough, but be honest with yourself about all this. And find writer friends to discuss these things with- I promise you, there are thousands of us in the same situation, thinking and feeling and worrying the same things. Being honest with yourself and sharing the worries with others frees you to do what you do best: write.

Here’s a chance to get started- what’s your gut instinct about where you are with your WIP? What do you need to do to know if your instinct is right?

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