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A month ago, I wrote a guest blog here about Revising/Rewriting the WarriorWriter way as taught by Bob Mayer. I preached about the three arcs to emphasize in revision: Plot, Character, and Symbolism. Since then, I’ve spent about six hours per day revising and rewriting the first draft of a novel I composed for this year’s National Novel Writing Month.
So how’d I do? Not so good. I’m a bad WarriorWriter. Maybe. (You decide.)
Back in the middle Eighties when I started my professional writing career in magazines, I called everything between the composition of the first draft and the final copy placement into layout, “Comb Edits.” Think of a girl with long hair combing or brushing over and over until all the tangles are gone.
So here’s my confession: Despite the way I understood the teachings of Bob, I defaulted to my old ways of comb editing. Sure, I kept an internal chant going of “Plot, Character, Symbolism” while I combed, especially when I encountered tangles. But I discovered I don’t have the mental discipline to focus my edits solely and only on, say, Plot Arc.
So what are the WarriorWriter lessons here? I like triplets, so let’s extract three:
#1: Editing is good
I don’t care what you call it or how you think about it, going over and over your manuscript with the same creative intensity you had in composing the first draft makes it better. The first few comb-throughs force you to confront the most difficult tangles, which usually involve plot, characters, and symbolism. (And that’s also when the word “rewrite” is more in play than “revise.”)
#2: Warriors improvise
Just because the plan calls for sticking to plot issues in the first edit doesn’t mean you get to ignore every other problem you see. If your mission is to blow up a bridge and a tanker truck filled with gasoline is conveniently broken down in the middle lane, you change your plan to take advantage of it.
#3: Who Dares Wins
That’s the title of Bob’s book about success in every aspect of life using the warrior philosophy of the Green Berets. Those who dare write the first draft of a novel dramatically increase their changes of publication (duh). And those who dare edit their work with the fine-toothed comb of plot, character, and symbolic development increase their chances even more (duh again).
To me, the largest lesson of WarriorWriting is to do whatever is necessary to find the tangles and fix them, to dare invest everything you’ve got to be in a position to win. If you don’t, you’re not really in the game. Usually, the hardest part is seeing the real tangles that lie hidden behind the walls of our own psychological making (and that’s where the help of other people becomes invaluable: hence the need for psychologists, beta readers, and editors).
The good news is, most people don’t dare confront these tangles, and therefore won’t win. When you point out tangles to most people, they get defensive or ignore them. Only a scant few keep combing and combing and combing until they’ve relentlessly created a manuscript (and a life) worthy of recognition.
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Jeff Posey writes historical and contemporary fiction informed by archaeological findings of the Anasazi culture that lived in the Southwestern U.S. a thousand years ago. He blogs as Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey, and enjoys his Twitter buddies as AnasaziStories.
And, yes, Jeff fully appreciates the irony of a guy who is so bald he hasn’t touched a comb in twenty years evangelizing the benefits of “comb editing.” There’s always the lingering hope of facial hair.