When I was in college, my mom and my aunt took up the hobby of quilting. More specifically, they did strip quilting, which is basically making quilts via assembly line. I decided I wanted on that bandwagon, too, so I asked them to teach me. Both of their moms also quilted, so we had some pretty fun days together!
There were a lot of things I loved about quilting. I loved flipping through books and selecting what pattern I wanted to make. I loved picking out fabrics, coordinating colors and prints. I loved watching the quilt come together, but I especially loved when we’d make one complete square at the beginning (“instant gratification,” my mom called it). Most of all, though, I loved spending time with these amazing women in my family, none of whom I live near anymore.
But there was one thing I hated about quilting. I hated fixing my mistakes. When the seam didn’t line up properly, or if I sewed the wrong pieces together, I had to get out the seam ripper and undo the work I’d done, so that I could do it again the right way. Did I understand that this was the only way to get a good finished product? Of course. But that didn’t make doing the work over again any less annoying.
The same concept is what often kept me from investing significant time into writing. I didn’t want to go back and fix my mistakes. I didn’t want to revise, or edit, or consider that maybe the sequence was wrong, or that the whole thing needed to be redone. I wanted to be a miraculous writer whose words just came out right the first time.
Frankly, my dear, this is ridiculous.
In 2005, a year after I graduated college, I took an advanced fiction workshop. In this class, I wrote a short story to share, and you know what? They really didn’t like it. They thought it was boring and too long. Both my workshop companions and our instructor thought there was a good idea in the story, but the story itself was just okay. I was kind of bummed.
So for the first time, I rewrote something. It was only about twenty pages, but I completely overhauled this thing. The later draft was much better received, and I’ve kept it in my back pocket as my only fully polished piece of writing. The struggle of redoing it led to a much better finished product and a much greater sense of accomplishment.
The same is true for the novel I’m writing now. After my first full revision, I was pretty happy with it. I was excited to share it with beta readers. And you know what? They had problems. They had concerns. Some were minor, but some were pretty big. I didn’t really want to do any major overhauling, but once I did, I could actually tell that my novel was getting better. It’s definitely not instant gratification, but like mowing the lawn, I can see progress.
I’m still ripping out seams. I’m still rearranging the pieces. I’m still adding and taking away and verifying historical details and making sure everything lines up. But in the end, I hope I’ll love it as much as the quilts I’ve made, and I hope readers will love it as much, too.
It will be 100% worth the effort.