What's Missing from My Writing
by Jessica McCann
The first book I wrote was a murder mystery. The Missing Clock features murder, suspense, a smooth-talking private eye and a surprise plot-twist at the end, Scooby Doo-style. I was eight when I wrote it. The book was neatly bound with two staples. It also included a color illustration of the clock in question, a priceless heirloom encased in gold and sparkling gems.
My mom, a voracious reader, was my first fan and my first critic.
"I like it," she said. "But you should describe the clock instead of just drawing a picture."
It was my first lesson in the importance of revision, though I didn't know it at the time. My second lesson came years later from my high school English teacher, Mr. Churbuck, senior year. Revision, he said, was vital because it gives you a chance to add what's missing. And there's always something missing. The only way to earn an A in his class was to turn in a minimum of three drafts with every assignment -- one handwritten, complete with scratch marks, scribbles and arrows; one typed and littered with red-inked edits; and a typed final draft, which he would inevitably litter with red-inked edits of his own. By the end of the year, I was turning in four or five drafts, stacks of edits so thick they were barely harnessed by my second-hand stapler, and reveling in the fact that the only red mark on the final draft from Mr. C was an A+.
My mom's fierce love of books fueled my early desire to write; and Mr. Churbuck's fierce devotion to the art and craft of revision is what made me a writer.
Fortunately, those influences led to the creation of my second book, a historical novel. All Different Kinds of Free reveals one woman's courageous fight for freedom during the dark period of slavery in America. I was 38 when I finished writing it. The book went through countless drafts and revisions. It received a couple semi-finalist nods as a work-in-progress and a major literary award as a completed manuscript. I had landed an agent and was on submission to publishers when I gave my mom a printout to read.
"I like it," she said, handing it back to me roughly two weeks later. "I want to read a sequel."
Jessica McCann, a professional freelance writer and novelist, lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona. Her nonfiction work has been published in Business Week, The Writer and Phoenix magazines, among others. All Different Kinds of Free (Bell Bridge Books, April 2011) is her debut novel. She welcomes interaction with readers and writers at her website (www.jessicamccann.com) and on Twitter (@JMcCannWriter).