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Saturday, August 14, 2010

On perspective, and experiencing your work as a reader

Alternate Title: In which I wax immodest about the manuscript I'm shopping . . .

So I recently had a request for a full from an agent--


Since this is kind of a braggy post, let me gather all my recent brags together. I'll put 'em in spoiler tags, though, in case you don't want to put up with all the immodesty:

» Click to show shameless bragging - click again to hide... «


Ahem. Where were we then? Oh yes, the full request.

I'll never be done working on making this manuscript the best it can possibly be until it's in print (or in the trunk, I suppose), so even though I'm querying for it I'm still trying to polish it as much as I can. It's been a pretty painstaking process, going through one chapter at a time in multiple sweeps looking for different things each time, and from time to time I think I've lost sight of the forest in all these trees.

Before sending the full off, though, I went through to the end tightening wherever I could, temporarily abandoning my slow pace. As I neared the end of the process, I realized that this was the first time in a long time that I had gone through such a large portion of my manuscript in such a short period of time. While I was still working on it and picking at nits and not merely reading for pleasure, I have to say it was a refreshing change in perspective. For the first time in a long time I had a chance to get caught up in the narrative.

If you're in the same situation I've been in--with a completed manuscript you've been picking at from up close that you haven't stepped back and read for a while, I recommend you try reading it through at some point. I found myself experiencing the tension in a way that you just can't when you spend forever looking at each chapter. As I neared the end, I looked back and marveled at all I'd been through with these characters. At all the emotional moments, I found myself getting emotional myself, verklempt both when things went awfully wrong and when things went astonishingly right.

For a lot of my revision process I've been focusing on the things I didn't know when I began, and I've been amazed and embarrassed at my overuse of to be verbs, my cart-before-horse tendency to talk about what characters could see and hear rather than simply showing. When you look really closely at something, especially something you made, you can only see the flaws. Take a step back and maybe you'll see something different. When I had the chance to experience my novel more like a reader might, I felt proud. I felt like I'd created and polished and worked and, in the end, come up with something that was actually pretty good.

Lord knows if anybody else will think so. Maybe I'll get a lot of "close but no cigar" from my agent search. I have to acknowledge that so it doesn't seem like I've got a fat head, because in our society we don't like it when anybody feels too good about themselves. We slap people down for having the hubris to think they're special. But you know what? If you don't believe in your own work, who the heck will?


rebecca said...

Oh Joe, this is so wonderful. I, for one, am deliriously happy for you. You have talent my friend and the publishing houses are seeing that. Please do not forget to contact me when you finally become a published author. I will run to that bookstore and pick up your most treasured words and mail the book to you so that you may sign it! Yes!

Que bueno! Bravo!

Joe Iriarte said...

You're so kind! I don't know if I'm there yet, but I like to think I'm close.

I'll tell you what--today I'm doing battle with the words again and thinking about how this is really work, you know? So we need those moments when we step back because they make the work worthwhile. :)

Ray Wong said...

Congrats and good luck on the full!

Joe Iriarte said...

Thanks Ray!