Refining The Creative Compass

What is the novel…in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.

                                                -Jane Austen

Sierra-Dan-Ladder

Dan on REFINE:

I so delight in the detail work of refining text that I tend to polish too soon.

I had to learn once again, through the experience of writing, that I needed to practice delayed gratification.While drafting The Creative Compass, I slowed my own momentum by rewriting sentences and paragraphs rather than pushing forward to add new ones. Later, I found myself ruminating over word choice and punctuation when I should have been confronting those larger challenges identified by early reader feedback.

The project itself (along with my co-author) became my best writing teacher as I increasingly forced myself to practice what we were prescribing, overriding inclinations to do otherwise. It seems to be part of my process to first choose the familiar way and only eventually the best way.

When the time came to refine, when the edits were clearly copy edits, I no longer had to worry about writing onward and could focus on carving away excess layers of words. Some of my most carefully crafted sentences disappeared as we made the cuts and the dramatic alterations that the third and fourth stages require. It was a sacrifice but also the only way to achieve the clarity and power infusing those ideas that moved us to write in the first place.

Sierra on REFINE:

I became aware that I’d reached refine only in retrospect as the final submission date for The Creative Compass loomed in late spring of this year.

Over the course of about six months, three different editors had given comments on the manuscript, as well as a generous handful of early readers. But it’s not like going to the doctor. All those queries and ideas pointed to the need for revision but no one told my dad and I just how to ‘fix’ our manuscript. We each had to rely upon our experience and our instincts — sharpened by all the other times we’d cycled through the five stages — as we set about determining first what to develop and, eventually, what to refine. And revising meant not only moving forward but doing so together in a direction that worked for both of us.

We knew we’d made it to the fourth stage when the work settled into the sentence level. Larger and larger blocks of text received the equivalent of an approving nod. At some point we passed over some invisible line that marked sufficiency: our editor began to suggest we simply cut sentences that were obscure. Refining, then, meant deciding whether to cut or to clarify. My dad typically preferred to cut, whereas I wanted to polish.

Two questions took on urgency: Had I said everything I wanted to say? In the best possible way? Once we submitted the final manuscript, we’d still be able to correct errors but we’d be barred from taking the initiative on more significant improvements. Refine marked that transition between transformation and reorganization. Because we both find the greatest joy in the writing, it felt bittersweet. Refining “The End” doesn’t make it any less the end.

Read the next post in the series.

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