My father was a sculptor in wood. I remember him saying, “The wood has a story. It’s my job to let it out.” I was six or seven, but those words have stuck with me.
I have been working with a fine editor (see Kopp Editing Services) on the first part of my second novel. As I was hacking away at the prose, chopping a sentence here, a participle there, I saw my father working. His chisel was at first roughing out the block, revealing the grain and density, finding the story. Maybe because all writers are suckers for metaphor, I realized as I read through the margin notes and suggestions, the first draft is that roughing out. Rewrite teases out the shape, and editing provides the fine adjustments my father made to his sculpture with the gouges, skews and v-groove chisels that gave the the piece character.
There is something to be said for that metaphor. When I began my first novel, I thought I would write a draft, then line edit. (After all, I’m a good writer, I thought. Got B’s in college from the writing teacher who was reputed to believe, “A is for God, B is for me, and C+ is for the best of the rest of you.”)
That first time, I got the same result a woodworker would have gotten by jumping to fine detail before the roughing out was finished. Now, on the second novel, after more experience and the help of three critique groups, I believe it’s time to take out the gouges and skews. So I sent the third pass off to my editor.