Incoming food metaphor!
If you’re a wine person (or just an alcoholic with a steady income), you may have noticed a trend lately for “young” or “unoaked” Chardonnay wines. The theory here is that you get the pure essence of the Chardonnay grape, which is supposed to be a good thing. Oaking — aging in old barrels — gives the wine the buttery taste most people associate with Chardonnay. Wine snobs have lately decided that you only need to do that with bad wine. The instant boom in very high-end unoaked Chardonnays was, of course, immediately followed by a boom in rather more down-market unoaked Chardonnay.
The problem here is that the unadulterated essence of the Chardonnay grape really isn’t all that good. Very fine ones may have some interesting nuances that refined palates can detect, but your run-of-the-mill unoaked Chardonnay just tastes like white grape juice with a bit of burn. You need a good sit in an oak barrel to cut the sweetness with some smoky flavors.
Here’s where the food (drink, in this case) metaphor comes in: your writing is the Chardonnay. Your editors are the oaking. See how it works?
Every once in a while you get someone who produces really, really good writing straight out of the pen. Hunter S. Thomson’s “gonzo” pieces are unoaked Chardonnay — the good kind. Some of them are delicious in their unadulterated, unedited form (others honestly could have used an editor).
But unless you are one of those rare grapes, your writing needs “oaking.” It needs to slosh around and gather flavors.
Letting go of the manuscript is always hard. I tend to rewrite whole books about three or four times myself, just so I can avoid showing them to other people. But there comes a point at which you’ve stomped all you’re going to out of the grapes (your writing, remember) and need to let the barrel do some aging for you.
Did that metaphor actually work? I can’t really tell, and I think it has something to do with all this Chardonnay I’ve been drinking.