George Pollock State KidIssue 57
Billy Stone read his draft carefully from beginning to end. When he had finished, he putthe manuscript down and paced around his little dorm room. He thought:
If I ever showed this to Sister Francis Helen, she'd kill me.
To start with, the manuscript was obese; rolls of flab drooped over its belt. It was lardedwith windbaggery, dependent clauses and high-fat adverbs and adjectives. It sagged fromlong, overwritten descriptions. There was a deluge of exposition, which Sister FrancisHelen hated.Fragments sat unconnected like pitiful orphans, without a sentence to call home. Subjectsand verbs did not do their first and most obvious job, which is to agree. Tenses jumped inand out of time periods. Related ideas were all over the place, instead of together.Metaphors soared into outer space (like this one). Lazy, passive-voice sentences were putin (like this one).And, oh, the speechifying! A self-righteous narrator delivered moralistic lectures. On theleast pretext, faceless figures jumped on soapboxes and orated like Marc Anthony. And,unlike in real life, other perfect strangers, to each other as well as to the putative reader,listened with infinite patience. The talk was too much, too impersonal, too fake, too
.This was the star of Sister Francis Helen's English class? This was a guy who expectedthat his manuscript would be so good that Fairview University, which accepts under ten percent of applicants, would just wave him through its prestigious portals? This was thefamous author Billy Stone who had just accepted a zillion-dollar advance from a major publisher?Well, yes.***In the twilight of his career, James Michener, the author of Hawaii and many other novelsthat have enthralled tens of millions, was asked by a reporter what made him such a greatwriter.“I'm not a great writer,” he said. “I'm a lousy writer. ”He paused, letting perplexity spread over the reporter's face. Then he said, “But I'm theworld's greatest
”Many who take pen in hand, and who are not as wise as James Michener, think thatrevision is somehow beneath them. They view it as grubby, sweaty, messy work unsuitable for an
Let some churl of a copy editor clean it up
.Unfortunately, even a brilliant copy editor can only do so much with a typical first draft.There is no shame in a rotten first draft; publishing professionals consider it normal andexpected. A first draft is considered just that, a start -- though a major one -- in a long,