Friday, October 5, 2012

Polishing


 

*Climbing aboard the rum barrel, tankard in hand, partly snookered…to rant.

Exactly what the hell does polishing mean? Honestly?

If you’re talking about silver it’s a pain in the ass process involving smelly compounds, gloves and getting crap stuck in your fingernails. (Even with the gloves on.)

If it’s jewelry, it’s about finding one of those bloody polishing clothes, giving up, going out and buying another one, using it, then finding the six other ones you have.

If it’s a book you’re written? I don’t have a bloody idea. I mean, what is the difference between copy editing, where one removes all the overused words, like sigh, nod, grin, turn…and all. And you correct the over fondness for ellipses, or M dashes or exclamation points or whatever little pet trick slips into a MS. You make sure you didn’t change the name of the heroine, hero, villain, ship, city…or how it’s spelled…

This is copyediting, right?

RIGHT?

Polishing for genre? Well, if you’re smart, you already know the basics of your genre so you started out writing to fit those places of sparkle and shine. As for tweaking to satisfy editor/publisher/agent nuances…it’s insane. They are constantly changing. Might as well take aim at a speedy hummingbird with a peashooter.

Sure, there are format things that you can make certain of. But can you polish a MS for a specific audience? I mean polish means it’s done. The basic form is locked in, it’s a shape. A spoon, a broche, a teapot. You can’t just…polish to something else!

Me? I just don’t know what the hell to do anymore. I’m advised to polish before hitting that send button. Well, crap. It’s as polished as it’s gonna get without some specific guidelines from someone who sees past the bits of tarnish to the potential. I can’t polish to everyone’s taste! And I’ve lost the ability to figure out what anyone wants. I know what I want. To have fun.

Besides, some people like that bit of black behind the gem to offset the metal’s gleam. Some want it to be blindingly sparkly to the point of no real definition to the piece.

I CAN’T DO IT!

*Falls off rum barrel and staggers over to the bar to refill tankard.

Deep breath.

I don’t know what polish means anymore. What does it mean to you?

 

37 comments:

TerriOsburn said...

You need to find your happy place, darlin'. Polishing an MS is not that complicated. You read books. Lots of books. Those are polished. The writing is strong. The structure is solid. The story is interesting and not boring. That's polished.

Now, did those books land on the editor's desk in that condition? Nope. But it likely looked damn good when it got there. If you (or a beta reader) can read your book and not be pulled out by anything, then you're polished.

If a sentence has to be read three times to be understood, it needs polishing. If your characters go travel 500 miles and get to their destination two hours after leaving their starting point, you need to polish.

If the verbs are weak (he walked, she looked, they talked, we sat) then you need polish. The bottom line is, you know what a published book looks like. Make your book look as close to that as you can and you're done. And if YOU think it's there, then it's there.

But when someone asks if something is polished, they likely mean "Have you done extensive revisions to pretty it up or did you finish the rough draft two days ago?"

MsHellion said...

I think polish is the last read through to see if there are any obvious line errors and the like. It's the grammar revision in my mind.

However, in my books, I'll write what I think is a great draft...and "polish" it and not accept the reality that, um, I need to check for plot holes. And shit. There needs to be at least character plausibility--would the character DO that? Has the character grown enough to now do this new thing? Stuff like that. Does my world building make sense--have I broken any of the rules of my world and not explained sufficiently WHY that happened and not chalked it up to "magic" or "just because" because I'd say 51% of people want a better explanation. And if it's "magic" that better be explained sufficiently; it better be a part of the world, et al.

So polish is the last step, but I think a lot of us are unwilling to look at our draft for the real writing, the real revision. We're depending on an editor to tell us what is missing, but we shouldn't. We have to impress them first.

Maureen said...

I get that. I get the looking for overused words, and gaping plot holes but I guess I consider that editing. It's structurual basics.

Hangs head. Yes, I do on occassion have the sentence that has to be read three times by a reader. I get it, I know why it's written that way because I hear the character voice...but I get that I need to untwist things. Just because I hear Yoda doesn't mean someone else will...

I write down a story. I edit it, I revise it. I probably edit again, then I do a search and destroy... Might read it through again...but then she's done.

Polish?

Take two weeks to polish and then submit!

Give me two weeks after every other step and I'm more likely to anti-polish...fix what doesn't need to be fix or fix it wrong...

ARGH!

TerriOsburn said...

Hon, polish and edit means the exact same thing. The words are interchangeable.

TerriOsburn said...

And I should have polished that comment...

Marnee Bailey said...

I agree with both Ter and Hells.

The word polished to me is kind of the difference between going out to dinner in my jammies and going out looking my best. I mean, I could go out in my jammies or sweats for sure. No one would call the cops, I'd be clothed. But, when I go somewhere nice I want to look my best. These days, looking my best is a multi-phase process. (The older I get, the more phases I need. Sheesh.) Big things, like the right outfit and shoes, but also all the little things I can do too. Shave. (Okay, these days this is more of a big thing than a little one. Don't judge.) Then there's smaller scale stuff. There's plucking and teeth brushing and makeup. Little stuff people only notice if it isn't done.

So when I think my stuff is polished, I usually think of it after I've addressed all the revision stuff, both big (plot holes, character inconsistencies) and little (grammar, word choice, etc). It's as pretty as I can make it, with the knowledge I'm working with.

The more I write and the more classes I take, the more I learn. A good and bad thing, I guess. Just means I've given myself more things to polish/do in revision. Yippee. :)

Maureen said...

Hels, I've jumped in with major revision...directed by editor or just on my own. Again, I often think it's staying away from the if it ain't badly broken, leave it alone thing...

Since I'm a pantser, I always have to revise, tweak, untwist, and fix...it's the word polish that gets me.

As if one last look at something will fix it all up. If I've done my job right, it won't. And yeah, I do count on an editor to help out. Maybe I need to enlist a full time CP...

Sigh.

And I managed to leave my house without my reading glasses. I'm meeting with my self-publishing guru and I can barely read. Or type. ARGH! Again.

Marnee Bailey said...

I kind of think polish, edit, and revise are all the same things.

I was lamenting how bad my draft sucks the other day and the DH said to me, "Well, when you're done, you just have to shine up that turd."

Eloquent, right? He's really quite smart. Swear.

TerriOsburn said...

You did say you were slinging poo.

Maureen said...

See, I think of polish before submission as the making sure you have the editor name right, the addy looks good. No grammatical errors in the query letter. You send the right MS, spell your name right...the first impression stuff. Like the shaving and making sure the lipstick liner keeps all the lipstick on the lips...

Maureen said...

Some of the most interesting fossils out there are dino poo...so why not!?

MsHellion said...

"Polishing a turd" rather insults my ego. *LOL* I mean, I know we're writing "shitty first drafts" but I'd hope by the time it was revised, it had been "hosed" down sufficiently that people didn't still think of it as a turd! *LOL*

Besides it's like insulting family. *I* can say my sister is a nutjob. She's MY sister. But anyone outside the immediately family can't. So I can say my first draft is a turd, but you can't.

Maureen said...

Well, it's all manure that makes the flowes bloom...

Janga said...

I agree with Terri that edit and polish are the same. But for me, revision is a separate stage. My process consists of four stages: thinking, drafting, revising, editing/polishing. Thinking is all the peliminary stuff where I play with ideas and write the character biographies. Drafting is getting the whole story down--beginning, middle, ending (rarely in that order). Revising is the hard work of making it consistent, logical, lucid, and strong. It's the stage I have a difficult time ending because I can always find reshaping, layering, cutting, adding, etc. that cry out to be done. Editing/polishing is where I check for errors in grammar, usage, mechanics and diction. It's a waste of my time to do this until I'm through with revisions because there's no point in polishing what may end up trashed.

I confess that the English teacher in me loves the final stage. It's the only part of the process where I feel completely in contol. My characters are silent at that stage. Even the Inner Critic is muted.

Maureen said...

Flowers... Knew my lack of glasses would catch up to me...

Maureen said...

So, what would put you off when reading something? What would make you say, this needs polish? Is it just mispellings, typos, anachronisms?

TerriOsburn said...

For me it's the sentence structure and word choice. I judged a contest entry recently and the very first sentence of the book had a dangling modifying clause. It was blatant and pulled me out no the very first sentence. Through the rest of the entry were unnecessary words and some where the author clearly meant one thing but had chosen a word that meant something different.

The thing was, this writer knew how to craft a plot. There was action and a solid pace. Suspense and sexual tension without anyone creaming their drawers at a hand shake. But the writing needed so much polish, I couldn't enjoy the story.

Maureen said...

Now I'm paranoid. Do I do that?

No, don't answer that. I'm sure I do. I only hope that I edit it into shape before submission. I mean I got a very nice rejection yesterday where the editor said I had many interesting aspects to the story...

TerriOsburn said...

Nah. You don't have this problem. Or if you do in rough draft form, you fix it. I'm sure it's not the best word to use, but I think of it as amateurish. Which for all I know my writer could be. (It's certainly not what I'd call professional.) This person just needs more time and maybe to analyze some well-written books to see how that writer did it.

But I'd rather struggle with choosing the right words than not be able to plot. Especially since plotting is already one of my weaker areas.

Maureen said...

You plot like a pro! And so organized...all those little post it notes... You've actually stumbled on something I've heard several well known authors talk about...plotting about 3-4 scenes ahead. Not so far to be a total outliner, but far enough to keep forward momentum.

TerriOsburn said...

Oh, I can plot a love story like nobody's business. But an actual external plot that makes the book somewhat interesting to read. Not so much. LOL!

MsHellion said...

I'm still trying to remember what a dangling modifier is. I think I do that. *LOL*

Janga said...

Editing/polishing skills can be learned or you can get help with them from a friend or a good copy editor. I'm not sure story skills can be taught. I think they can be improved, but there has to be a spark there originally.

The kind of ms. you describe, Terri, says to me the writer is either ignorant or arrogant. Since we're all ignorant at times, that's a forgiveable and correctable flaw. Arrogance is rarely either in my experience.

TerriOsburn said...

I don't think so, Hellie. Can't think of it in the stuff I've read of yours lately. (And I'd never remember anything further back than a few days ago.)

Very true, Janga. For this person, I think it was just that she needs more time and instruction. Unless she's been writing for a dozen years and then she's probably not going to like my feedback. LOL!

MsHellion said...

She's probably not going to like it if she's only been writing a few days either, because The Ignorance is Bliss crowd all start out thinking FUN equals EASY. Writing is SO FUN! But it's not easy--and feedback that your sentence structure is amateurish is going to hit hard. *LOL* No matter who you are.

Maureen said...

There is a fine line between ignorance and arrogance. Easy to pop back and forth. Ignorance is when you are in a pit and accept the hand to get out, arrogance is when you've left the ground and won't toss a line down to be anchored, so you float away...

I've been both.

Maureen said...

Hellie, I desperately want the fun back. The thing is, when it's fun, even the hard stuff is easy...because it's fun. Or at least the end result is fun.

TerriOsburn said...

I'm still having fun. It's all in your perspective. But ask me again in three months (or even three weeks) and my answer might be different. :)

P. Kirby said...

Well, "fun" is why I'm letting myself waste time on the fan fiction project. Because it's way too easy to get worked up about all the conflicting advice, tormented by the internal editor, etc. when the goal is TO BE PUBLISHED.

Anyhoo,

Polished for me includes some copy editing, removal of stupid writerisms, etc. In fact, some of the other more complex stuff, word usage, deepening POV, etc., is part of an earlier stage of editing. Polish is the last round of clean-up, removing all the new typos and crap I introduces while "supposedly" improve the flow, and made the writing "sing," etc.

But mileage may vary.

Methinks you just need to find a fun thing to write and get your mojo back.

Maureen said...

I have some stuff simmering back in the promordial swamp of my imagination...a few fun ideas... Right now, I'm reclaiming the fun of being a published author. Wrestling with forcing my way out of the alligator's mouth, determined to rediscover the fun...

Maureen said...

Okay, crew. I'll be going off the air for a few hours... Off to sit at the feet of my self-publishing guru and learn from her wisdom...

quantum said...

Every time this blog gets all techy, I shiver and pat myself on the back, congratulating myself for being a reader who knows when to throw in the writing towel. I'm very happy to just dabble with writing fiction.

There are obviously some awesome writing talents publishing romance and one needs a very special talent to compete. Polishing, editing, revising or whatever can only add a little gloss. The creative spark is what matters and if there are a few blemishes here and there, as long as they are not too blatant and your talent glows like fire in the dark, then readers will forgive and accept that its part of your charm.

Sometimes even a polished gemstone can be improved by a flaw. The flaw may refract light producing beautiful effects of scintillating colour which are lost if the stone is 'perfect'.

So my advice, with my ramblers hat firmly in place, is do anything and everything to get that creative spark roaring into flames and don't worry too much about all the spit and polish. LOL

TerriOsburn said...

Q makes a good point. Too much polish and you eliminate the patina. Which can be where all the value is. I've read one author who clearly works very hard to make every single sentence powerful, but that somehow made reading the work harder for me. It was like being pounded with a hammer incessantly. Gave me a headache.

Sometimes less is more.

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Can I say yes, yes, yes to all the comments above.

I think of polish and editing as one in the same, but like your final edit. Maybe even the one where you add another layer of something. Maybe it's changing some dialogue to have that memorable joke in it, or adding in a sunset when the couple is standing on the dock talking...

Almost like lifting scenes here and there a little above where they were before.

But I'm totally the wrong person to be giving advice. Oh, and I know I'm a horrible writer about grammar. Absolutely hated grammar in school and cannot stand thinking about it now. Not so good for wanting to be published right?

Maureen said...

Q, I love you. My beliefs in a nutshell. Had a great visit with my guru and heading home!

TerriOsburn said...

I used to think I had a handle on grammar. Then I started writing and learned differently.

Maureen said...

Speaking grammar is so different than writing grammar. You through in spelling grammer - yes, I did that on purpoise - and things get totally off kilter. And spell check can be so stupid. Let's all sorts of things fly by that should be stoped.

*snort!