Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Making a Mess of Things

So it's Kitchen Sanitation Month.

Which means the kitchen is a mess.

Because that's how it works - in order to get things really clean, you have to get your hands dirty; and when you're doing a big job like this, getting into all the corners and throwing out the expired stuff and fixing what needs fixing and replacing the roach traps, putting things in order, a side effect is a huge temporary increase in disorder. Recycling, trash, and compost containers overflow and have to be emptied much more often than usual (though really you ought to empty the kitchen compost container at least once a day). And let's not talk about what happens to the floor. (Which is white tile. White. Tile. Whatever previous owner did that, I could strangle on a regular basis, but it's way down on the list of Stuff We Gotta Fix in This House.)

It's exactly the same as revising a manuscript, with one notable exception. When you're revising a manuscript, you have to get your hands dirty. You have to make a mess of it. Word processors disguise this somewhat, because you can take out paragraphs and bits of words and even move stuff around without it leaving visible traces if you don't want visible traces. I have some old typescripts up in the attic that I was revising with pens, scissors, tape, and different-colors of paper, because dear heaven, you can't retype the thing from scratch constantly. And whereas the cat can only disrupt word processing by standing on your keyboard and mousepad, his options for disrupting on-paper revision were practically limitless - as are his options for disrupting Kitchen Sanitation Month. (I don't want to flick the bucket water at him because it's got bleach in it.)

Still, however you do it, it's a messy, difficult, time-consuming job. And - just like Kitchen Sanitation - you have to go back and reclean stuff you've already cleaned pretty often, because you can't fix the plot hole in Chapter 23 without messing up some foreshadowing in Chapter 2, creating a continuity error in Chapter 15, and having a major characterization epiphany that requires you to reread every reference to the heroine's younger brother and adjust accordingly; any more than you can wash the dust off the good china without getting the sink and dishwasher dirty again. But you have to sanitize the sink and dishwasher first or the dishes won't be sanitized.

Still - and this is why writing is more fun than housework - revision has one huge advantage over Kitchen Sanitation Month, and that is, that while you will reach a point at which you're done revising a particular manuscript, you will never truly be done cleaning the kitchen.

You know, when you send your best version of a manuscript off to submission, that you'll run another polishing rag over it every three or four rejections; and if you get accepted you'll probably have to revise for the editor; and then there'll be copyediting; and then you'll have to proof the galleys; but eventually, at last, it'll be a book, bound and out the door and even if you reread it later and find something you think you could have done better, it'll be too late. That book is printed and it's staying the way you left it.

The kitchen will never, ever reach this point.

Remember that next time you're fed up with revising. Or you look at a work and can only see what a huge mess it is. Or the whole project begins to seem less worthwhile.

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