Category Archives: editing

The Living Conduit

I have so many documents open for the purpose of reading, writing, or editing that I lost track of my own work in progress. As I closed out documents that I was done with, or done with at this time, my eyes fell on what appeared to be the end chapter words of a book, apparently having to do with androids:

“The original advertising company went the direction the food industry had gone: Lab humans were all natural and organic, made from the best ingredients, just like man. Then they took their cues from the medical community, using words such as bio-identical, endogenous, and molecularly adaptable. Then, in a nod to devolution, promo-sapienthen stardust. Finally, They’re real, yo.

I couldn’t place it. Whose book was this? (I edit a lot of scifi.) As my eyes swept upward, I realized the book was mine, and those were the last words I had written. It was a bizarre wake-up call. Writing styles are like fingerprints, and that is clearly mine. I’m not sure I like the words (come on, They’re real, yo?), but at least now I remember why they exist. They were the start of the next interview section, as the book takes place as a series of interviews between the billionaire who created the androids, known as Minäs, and his granddaughter. So there are two stories taking place, the granddaughter’s present-day story and the granddad’s story of how the world came to be as it was.

There is a lot to juggle in this book, and sometimes I have to remind myself that it was supposed to be humor. Still…They’re real, yo? Oh, brother. I need to become a better conduit for my own work.

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Red Marks are Gorgeous

Aren’t they?  Red marks all over my manuscript, or, in this case, all over chapter three of my manuscript, mean that I have something to focus on.  Let’s face it.  I’m busy.  Right now, my desk is piled high with school work to check, plus 3X5 cards with notes to myself, plus bills and other business correspondence that need to be paid or filed away.  Underneath the stacks of schoolwork, however, sit those marked-up pages of chapter three, which means that I’ll have something to immediately work on when I have a few moments to spare.  Without the red marks, I would be like a little, lost sheepling wondering what to do next and, consequently, choosing to do nothing.

Several years ago, I attended a writing workshop taught by Anya Achtenberg.  Because it wasn’t a university workshop, no grades were recorded anywhere–hence, some of the participants didn’t turn in their weekly work.  In one class, Anya handed back the story I’d turned in to her, but with red marks all over it.

The lady sitting next to me sighed wistfully and said, “I wish I had a manuscript with red marks all over it.”

To which, Anya replied, “You have to turn in work to get red marks.”

Red marks are a badge of honor, you see.  They are a badge of the hard-working writer.  If a writer doesn’t write, she isn’t going to have any beautiful, raw stories that are crying out for improvement.  If a writer isn’t brave enough to hand over those beautiful, raw stories to an editor or teacher or critique partner, she isn’t going to be seeing red.  And seeing red is a good thing.  Viewing the world only through the black and white filter of one’s own story is severely limiting.

So, although I haven’t had much time to write or post blogs, I have been able to turn my work over to my friendly neighborhood editor, who in turn gave me something to work with in those few spare moments that I have.  Being a sheepling has never suited me.  Thanks, Editor!

***Painting of Alexander Pope by Michael Dahl.  Yes, I’ll use ANY excuse to post an image of Pope.

****POST-EDITING to add this exclamation: Holy Guacamole!  I just threw chapter three into its own document in order to begin revisions and realized for the first that this chapter, the one my editor spent less than a week line-editing, is 10,000 words long!  The mind reels.

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No More Excuses

Every week I fabricate more excuses for not sending out queries. Last week, I decided that, since Nathan Brandsford was deluged with queries, other agents would be as well. So I didn’t send anything off. Before that, I skipped the holiday rush, then decided it was best to wait until agents were caught up with their holiday rush. I’ve been, probably foolishly, waiting for the perfect moment–the problem being that there is no perfect moment, at least not that I can ascertain. Agents are swamped; there are simply too many writers out there, and the number of would-be writers seem to grow monumentally every year.

I could bemoan my fate of being one drop in an ocean-full of writers, or I could simply move past it, accept my fate, and query. You see, I’m in my mid thirties, and I’ve always claimed to be a writer, ever since I can remember, anyway. In my twenties, I wrote several books, and I learned about marketing and publishing–and it was difficult enough back then. I decided those weren’t the books, that they weren’t good enough, etc, and I had a few children, went back to school to study for a creative writing degree, and then, finally, finally, wrote The Book. And now I discover that, though the publishing world was daunting in the nineties, it’s much worse now. Everybody, these days, has to write a book. Writers are, apparently, a dime a dozen. And I’m an insignificant little drop of water mixed in the ocean.

However, I’ve written (I hope) an eye-catching query, a good working synopsis, and I’ve edited and polished and refined my novel, especially the tricky first thirty pages, and all this based on feedback from others, especially by an agent who judged a contest that I entered. I am, sadly, not a clever person, and therein you’ll find my weaknesses. The winners of this particular contest were based on a point system. Much to my chagrin, my points were in the top range for my writing, setting, characters, style, etc, and were at the extreme opposite end for my hook and plot. I already knew that there wasn’t anything wrong with my plot; it fit neatly on a typical plot curve of rising action, climax, and resolution. It was the way I described my plot in the synopsis that knocked me out of the running for first place, along with the lack of hook in my synopsis and in the first page of my novel. In case you’re wondering, I still won a hundred bucks, which I won’t say ‘no’ to any day, but I wasn’t numero uno.

Although the review was direct and without commentary, it told me all I needed to know: Essentially, I had to rework the first pages and rewrite the synopsis (not to mention actually writing a workable query), and, at some point in there, develop cleverness. If you knew me, you’d know how difficult this was. I’ve never been clever, not ever, and I don’t like hooks, and I don’t particularly like beginning a novel in medias res. I’m a big fan of Ian McEwan, for example, whose novel beginning are, to put it bluntly, slow. If you’ve read Saturday, you know what I’m talking about. Basically, this book begins with a guy waking up in the early morning, staring out of his window, and ruminating for the next fifteen pages. I loved it, though I must admit the author lost me a little in the extremely long and slow racquetball scene that comes later. My point, though, is that, although I will read any kind of book, I prefer the ones that bring me into the action slowly. Of course, I don’t expect that much action in stories, anyway. Like I said, I’ll read anything. If it’s an action-packed book, so be it, but, if not, it doesn’t really matter to me at all.

Regardless of my slow, ruminative nature, I coldly axed the first fifteen pages of my book. And I learned how to do hooks in my own style. I also, after many drafts, wrote a query that had my critics saying things like, “I’m actually really surprised at how good this is!” I didn’t take it personally. I just accepted the compliment for what it was. Next week, then, I’ll be sending off some queries. Wish me luck, pray for me, and send your positive thoughts my way (I don’t really believe in luck, just God and the serendipity that he sometimes brings my way).

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On Writing and Faith

As I had mentioned in a previous post, I’m on the last leg of editing my novel. August 1st is my own arbitrary deadline for completing this tedious work; editing never quite takes my breath away in the same way that writing the first draft does. It definitely doesn’t bring me windy mountaintop moments, which is probably why this is the first book that I’m finally going to send out in hopes of publishing. In my twenties, I wrote about three detective novels, and I think back on them and grimace in embarrassment. Honestly, it isn’t that they were so badly written. I just never took the time to edit them because I completely lost the passion for them. This book is different, though. I can’t lose the passion, not completely, so I’ve braved the rough territory of editing with determination. This book will go out into the world. I don’t know when or how, but it must.

You can imagine my frustration, then, when I relate my latest editing-writing woes. Don’t worry, though. There’s redemption at the end. The other day, I completely rewrote a section of Franklin’s Ladder. Not only did I completely rewrite it to my satisfaction, but I did it while my children were getting ready for camp, while they were slamming the screen door over and over again, letting the cat tear through the house, waking their baby brother, who was supposed to be napping. By the time they left, the house was a wreck and filled with the wails of a young child who hadn’t slept enough. When my husband blustered in from work with his heavy, black fire-service boots clomping across the floor, I was ready to cry.

You see, my husband has convinced me that we’re going to get ripped together, and if I thought he meant drunk, I’d probably have wanted to laugh in relief rather than cry. No, indeed, though, my husband is putting us through the P90X workout system. I guess the fat fireman image wasn’t working for him–not that he’s fat; he just has a spare tire from all that beer. Well, I was frustrated and angry and didn’t want to work my shoulders and arms, which was the muscle group of the day. Soon, though, my petulant mood vanished. There’s nothing like arm reps for dissipating anger. After the workout, he took me out for chile-cheese fries (a local delicacy, and, yes, I did spell chile correctly), and he bought me a bottle of wine, and we went home to put only one child to bed and drink the lovely Merlot.

When I woke the next morning to a beautiful new day, I was excited to move on in my editing. Granted, I wouldn’t have time to turn on my computer until the afternoon, but the afternoon waited for me in a golden glow of heat. It would be too hot to go outside, the baby would be napping, and I would move on to the next section of my book!

I thank God that he knows what he’s doing. I thank God that he is always in charge of the universe because, when I quickly scanned the work I’d finished the day before, I discovered that none of it had been saved. Explain to me how that is possible with a program that makes sure I save my work before exiting. Explain to me why no back-up document existed. Explain these things to me, and I won’t stop believing in God, necessarily, but I will acknowledge that strange phenomena–that is to say, what we can observe with our eyes–have logical explanations. In the meantime, I will believe that there is no logical explanation, not with my hard drive, my removable drive, my automatic back-up system, and my own habit of saving approximately once every half hour.

Well, I took a deep breath and did the only thing I could do: I started over. As I wrote, I realized why the material had not been saved, and it was only for the sake of a few lines. Yes, I believe that God wanted it a certain way, and I had not written it that way. Why do I possess this kind of faith? I don’t know; I can’t explain it, except to say that my parents instilled it in me, and no amount of education has been able to rob me of it.

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