A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks
Let’s assume you’re making preparations for a weekend party. Lots of your friends are coming over and you want to be sure you have some great food and their favorite beverages. So, you drive over to your local liquor store and ask one of the employees to suggest a good wine. She takes you over to a display area of new wines and points out two different possibilities:
- El Vino de Hoboken (Hoboken, NJ): This Cabernet Sauvignon has been fermenting in industrial steel drums since Tuesday.
- Fleur Élégante (Sonoma Valley, CA): This Cabernet has been fermenting for at least four years in fine old oaken casks.
Which one do you select?
Here’s one of the most difficult things I do as a writer—I give my manuscripts some fermentation time. After I’ve gone through a couple of drafts with a book idea, I put the manuscript in a desk drawer and let it sit. I don’t disturb it, I don’t reread it, I just let it sit there . . . fermenting. It begins to mature; it begins to age. But, most important, I move on to other projects and allow that manuscript to exit from my consciousness.
While I work on new projects, the former one is receding from view and is becoming a distant memory. Perhaps eight weeks go by, thirteen weeks, seventeen. My thoughts have been elsewhere, my brain cells have been purged of its memory, and my mind has been cleansed. I resist all temptation to take it out and peruse it just for the fun of it. After all, would I disturb a fine wine aging in an oaken casket while it is still fermenting? Of course not!
After sufficient time has passed, I retrieve that manuscript and read it through. I now have a new perspective and the realization that I’m looking at this product as though it was brand new. I begin to see some things I hadn’t noticed before. I see some vocabulary that must be replaced, I see a description that’s not particularly well developed, and I see some facts that now sound silly. In short, I see the manuscript through new eyes. I know there will (and should) be changes, and now I’m ready to address those needs with a fresh viewpoint and a new perspective. That “fermentation” has offered me something quite different than what I started with, and the resultant editing is usually more intense and definitely more precise.
Here’s an example: The paragraph below was part of the eighth or ninth draft of a book I was working on about the animals that live in the canopy of redwood trees. It was okay . . . but, not quite “ready for prime time.” It needed percolation.
Several different animals creep and crawl through the treetops of the redwood forest. Most of them can’t be seen from the ground and are almost invisible to human eyes. Many of these animals, including mammals, insects, and birds, live more than 200 feet above the ground.
I purged the paragraph from my hard drive, stuffed a hard copy into a file folder, and placed it in the back of my file cabinet. It sat there for about three months, during which time I pursued other assignments and manuscripts. Eventually, I retrieved it and began to see it in a whole new light. My creative wheels starting spinning in new directions, and I saw all the changes that needed to be made. Fourteen drafts later it was transformed into two verses of a counting book for young readers. Here’s the final version:
Creeping, hopping, zipping
Throughout the redwoods green
Are many different creatures
Who are very seldom seen.
They live among the branches
High in this tall, tall tree,
Insects, birds, and mammals,
Let’s count them—one, two, three.
These two stanzas eventually became the opening for Tall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/2VqQhol), a book that subsequently earned the 2018 Outstanding Science Trade Book Award and the 2018 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award (Gold). I believe that success was due, in large measure, to the percolation time that allowed this book to mellow . . . age . . . evolve . . . into its present state.
Tony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books. He has also authored Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published [“. . . provides all the necessary resources and proven strategies critical in navigating the challenging world of children’s books.” – 5 stars] (https://amzn.to/2tREKCa).
Wow! What an amazing revision of those first few lines. Much more vivid and engaging! Thank you for sharing this and for sharing your advice. I am placing this book on my next library order. Sounds like a beautiful addition to my school library.