Spit and Polish

By

For the past few months I’ve spent time writing Fiddler’s Green nearly every day. I like to plant myself in the back corner of Panera Bread (because it rocks), or my neighborhood Starbucks (where they know my name and give me free stuff), or the burrito shop down the road (chips and fruit tea all day long) and once I’ve settled in with something tasty to eat or drink or both, I crack open the Macbook and get to work. Some days it might be an hour, others it might be six or more. And there’s a lot of hand-wringing going on because now that The Fiddler’s Gun is in readers’ hands, expectations have been whetted for the next book and the conclusion has got to satisfy.

I’m humbled by how emotionally invested many readers have become with Fin and her story and I don’t want to let anyone down. So the writing has been a meticulous process of trying to make sure that everything is firing in just the right direction in order to complete the story arc and deliver the emotional impact that I’ve been imagining in my dreams for over a decade. It’s worrisome work at times. And wonderful.

Now the grueling labor of squeezing the first draft out of my head is over and it’s been a relief lately to be knee-deep in the editing. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing, but after 120k words or so of raw creation, it’s refreshing to know that the grunt work is behind me.

It seems like I regularly hear of writers who love the creational phase of writing but loathe and fear the editorial. I’m the opposite. Editing might actually be my favorite part. I love massaging the seams in the narrative and developing characters and scenes that feel anemic or didn’t get enough attention. I love cutting out shudder-worthy adverbs and whittling down those over-written sections to get at their most vital core. I love deleting entire scenes and re-writing chapters. I even love the realization that something I’ve written is a god-awful mess that needs to go straight to the trashcan.

It’s been said that good books aren’t written, they’re re-written. Believe it. It’s tempting to think once the initial writing is finished that the work is done, that it’s good, that it’s ready to be read by others. But it just isn’t true. There might have been great writers of the past that could churn out a brilliant first draft but I think I’ll remain skeptical. (Though it’s hard to imagine extensive rewrites before the computer age, they certainly happened.)

The truth is that, in my case at least, the magic happens in the edits and the rewrites. The story doesn’t really shine until I start polishing it. And when I’ve rubbed the tarnish away and first start to see the luster come through, when I begin to see my reflection in the polish, that’s a great feeling.

So I’m editing these days and I’m beginning to see sparkles here and there. I’m excited. I think there’s a great story at the heart of the mess. There’s certainly a lot of work that still needs to be done, and not just by me, but by my editor and by others who will read and critique and make suggestions. But the physical thing itself exists now; it’s no longer just a figment of my imagination. I can point to it as it lies on my desk and say, “That right there is the manuscript for Fiddler’s Green.”

All that’s left to do is spit and polish.

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he’s the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


29 Comments

  1. Jaclyn

    “…after 120k words or so of raw creation, it’s refreshing to know that the grunt work is behind me.”

    I feel like a Congrats is in order here. Writing a first draft, out there in thin air, is scary business… and you’ve done it! Woohoo!

    I also like the editing stage best. First draft writing for me is like slopping earth, water, straw, anything together, trying to form a clay that’ll hold its shape. When I’m finally editing there’s substance to dig my fingers into and pinch to my will. It’s sloppy, ruthless, and awesome!

    Hope you continue enjoying the journey with your characters. Just curious: How much of this story would you say was penned directly from your pre-writing imagination life, and how much did you discover during the writing process?

    I’m so looking forward to seeing how the Captain has been. =)

  2. Kyle Keating

    Panera and Starbucks are favorite writing haunts for me as well…

    I can’t wait to continue Fin’s adventure.

  3. Josh

    My favorite part was “Pantera Bread (because it rocks).” I’m picturing a bunch of tatooed guys thrashing out to metal in the kitchen while they whip up your paninis.

  4. Leanne

    I, too, am looking forward to this book.

    I’ve got to ask, though… with such a fondness for editing, I assume there is a difference between Panera and Pantera, and this is not a spelling error. What is Pantera Bread?

  5. Eric Peters

    If bands Pantera and Bread ever joined forces to form a musical supergroup (think, Crosby, Stills & Nash [but not Young]), that would be a show to top all shows. In other news, I am quite eager for the typeset words of Fiddler’s Green to enter my brain lobes via my eyeballs and to whisk me away to Revolutionary America.

  6. Jonathan Forsythe

    @Leanne: It’s my understanding that Pete has larger-than-average fingers (in circumference), which are the frequent cause of misspellings and misdialings. I cannot actually confirm this first hand, as he wears mittens in public.

  7. Dan K

    Pantera Bread must rock.
    Also try these restaurants:
    Red Hot Chili’s (Peppers)
    Iron Grill Maiden
    Apple-B52’s
    Dairy Queen
    Olive Sound-Garden
    Sonic-flood Drive In
    Jackson 5 Guys Burgers
    Golden Earring Coral
    Big Boyz II Men

    I better get back to moving spreadsheets around. It’s great to hear the next book is being polished and will be buttoned up soon.

  8. Aaron Roughton

    Pete, glad to hear you’re at the part of the process that you enjoy most. Savor it. But not too long…I am really looking forward to the Fiddler’s Green.

  9. Q

    Possibly writing a novel is like polishing a telescope mirror? There is a lot of raw energy in melting, casting and annealing the glass to get to that initial brick. And still more energy is needed to reheat to slump it into the basic, semi-spherical shape. At that point, after a detailed inspection for crucial cracks and flaws, an expert critic may recognize its potential; but that is when the real work begins: many many hours of slow careful grinding to get to the rough shape that is intended; then many more hours of slower more careful polishing until the surface is exactly – to within fraction of a wavelength of light – what its creator intended. And when all that is done and perfect, it yet lacks an equally perfect silver coating before it can be mounted, aligned and pointed at the stars: bringing light and truth to all who dare look on…

    Maybe that’s a little “out there”?

  10. Toni Whitney

    I like to think of editing like the refining fire the “Great Editor” leads us through each day. All of that material that is in the pot gets refined until the pure gold is left. Can’t wait to see the finished product.

  11. Cate

    I’m excited to know that your book is comiing along & that you’re to the part you enjoy most. Thanks for not rushing it to please us, your readers, and by doing so sacrificing your art. But…I CAN”T WAIT!!

  12. Steve Narrow

    Pete, while visiting Falls Church, Va. in a subdivision called Lake Barcroft, I ran across a street named Fiddlers Green. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of it for you.

  13. Paul B

    Dan, you might like these places too:

    Uncle Kracker Barrel
    Derek and the Dominos Pizza
    Jason Gray’s Deli
    Lil John Silvers
    Mama and Papa Johns
    Shane and Shane’s Rib Shack
    Waffle House of Pain

  14. Karisa

    Oh the arduous bliss of editing! I wish you many happy revisions of punctuation and paragraph breaks. May each comma insertion bring you pleasure; may each ambiguous modifier be vanquished; may you have the wisdom to choose the em-dash over the ellipsis and the active over passive voice and dialogue over narrative.

    “I keep going over a sentence. I nag it, gnaw it, pat and flatter it.” – Janet Flanner

  15. Peter B

    Gee, you almost sound like a sculptor. Or a woodcarver, or restorer of ancient artifacts or something artsy like that.

    First draft, you know.

    What exhilaration to see the raw material created — however painful that might have been — and to watch it slowly turn to beautiful.

    Just keep Sam and his bagpipes out of here.

  16. David Knapp

    Curious – Have you always loved to write? I like the idea of writing and even keeping my blog updated but I don’t know if I would have it in me to write a book.

    Is writing as mysterious as I think it is or just a lot of hard work?

  17. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Honestly, I rarely feel that I love to write. However, I do love having written. Bit of a paradox there, I’m aware.

    It’s 90% hard work. When I’m in writing mode, I require myself to write 1000 words a day. Sometimes they come easy, sometimes they’re torturous. It’s amazing to see what you’ve hammered out after a couple of months of that.

  18. LauraP

    Ah, Pete… already I know IPOY. Really enjoying the anticipation of a good read on the horizon.

  19. Aaron Alford

    I love to write. My problem is prolificness. Prolificity. Writing a lot.

    I find myself carefully chipping away at a short character story for hours, trying to get to its heart (or his or her heart). These are mostly meditations on the people Jesus met, and maybe there’s something long-form in there somewhere, but they feel more like a collection of songs than a single story arc. I’m not sure what I can do with them.

    What has your relationship with writing been in the past? Have you always found yourself writing madly for hours, or is this something that’s developed?

  20. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Writing madly for hours is something I rarely have happen. Writing is hard work for me. I often cringe at the thought of doing it. Like I said, I love ‘having written’ more than I enjoy the writing itself. The creative process is hard but I love the result.

    For me, it comes down to discipline. I have to set a schedule and a goal and adhere to it. Even if, especially if, I don’t feel like writing on a particular day. And miraculously, those days when it comes the hardest and I’d rather be off sailing, those are the days when some of the best writing happens.

  21. James Witmer

    Hooray for re-writing! My favorite also.

    And it worked. Fiddler’s Green moved me as only three other books have. I’ve tried a couple of times to put it into a review, or a song, and I haven’t been able to yet.

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