Could’ve – Should’ve – Would’ve

Life is full of should’ve, would’ve and could’ve moments. The problem is not that they exist, but what one’s response is to those situations.  What did you learn from the situation? What are you going to do about it? If you say “fagetaboutit”, then you missed the point of the opening few lines of this post even before you read them. While “polishing” the content of the second part of my manuscript rewrite, I had a “should’ve done” moment. I was losing track of my ideas as the word count increased once again. At 5000 words, there was a distinct danger of either repeating myself or missing out important content. NOT GOOD!

The rewrite was progressing well until the end of the second section when the path already travelled started to fad from sight. I needed to resolve this issue post-haste or risk losing valuable time. It would be a tragedy (the no-fiction sort), if my rewrite was no better than my first draft.

Even though I had an outline to begin with, a system of keeping track of where my writing was going was needed. When I revisited the initial outline drafted at the beginning of the project, the reason my first draft wandered around idea-wise and included some repetition of material was due to the vagary of the initial outline. In fact, I was more of a web diagram than an outline. All the ideas were there but there was no structure or sequence included in the planning, a major oversight indeed. I just “flew by the seat of my pants” as I wrote according to the logic in my head. Clearly a less than adequate approach.

The other problem with my initial outline was not the outline at all. The problem was with me. It is easy to deviate from the plan as one gets wrapped up in an idea or explanation. Since the author knows were he or she is going, it is easy to get back on track. The reader has an entirely different problem, since they have been led astray and are not likely to return to the path the author is following with ease. They might even put the book down in frustration. I can deal with a reader putting my book down for any number of reasons, but frustration is not one of them.

The “should’ve done” moment for me was understanding that once one generates an outline, it needs to be followed carefully.  The outline should stand up to the same scrutiny as the text itself. Questions like:

Does the content of a part of the book lead to the next?

Is all the content listed in the outline necessary or is some of it redundant.

Will the content engage or disengage the reader?

etc. etc. etc…….need to be asked.

The outline in question is a prospective outline. Once the first draft is completed it “could’ve been” carefully checked against the prospective outline for its scope, content and sequence. Better yet, the first draft “should’ve been crosschecked with the outline after each section was completed. If that had been done in the first place, the rewrite “would’ve been” less of a task than it has become.

The next type or outline is a “retrospective outline“. I am generating one of those after each section of the book is rewritten. Think of this form of outline as a type of homework assignment requiring one to outline a text. The purpose of a retrospective outline is two-fold. First, it serves as a quality check on the content. Second, it serves as a way to keep careful track of the content of the rewrite as it unfolds. It is a kind of final checklist for the writer.

Once the rewrite is complete it will go back to the publisher for a content edit. There will be a blog about what that entails when my project reaches that stage.

I plan to write about the idea of taking too much owner ship of one’s ideas and not enough ownership of the content in my next blog. Until next time . . .

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