Tag Archives: editing

Turns of Phrase


The great thing about having taken about nine months in between drafting this novel and now running through it for the first edit is that I really get to read it with fresh eyes. I’ve totally forgotten some of the gems and turns of phrase that I used the first time around.

My favorite from today’s session?

In the late afternoon sun, the towering house loomed dark and silent, its shadow spilling down the hill and toward their feet like the runoff from a broken sewer line.

I mean, come on. I’d read that.

Other notables, maybe not so awesome or thematically coherent:

Trees “…thick and gnarled and knotty as the hands of a retired coal miner.”

something “…as stealthy as a camel in clown shoes.”

“perfume that reminded you of your next door neighbor, who somehow smelled like the fifties must have smelled, all cigarettes and sock hops.”

I mean, I don’t know if any of those are going to survive the edit. But they’re sure fun to rediscover.

 


Hey, That Thing I Wrote Maybe Isn’t Total Crap


The first step in an edit is re-reading the thing you’ve just written. Looking at it with fresh eyes, eyes unlikely to look favorably on the darlings you coddled through the first draft; eyes more likely to attack those darlings at the eyesores they really are. Eyes that don’t give even the first hint of a sharknado how inspired you were feeling when you wrote it, eyes that only see the frayed edges where the stilted narrative is struggling to hold itself in one piece.

Problem is, that’s next to impossible.

But you wade in anyway, because if you don’t, well, then it was all a waste of time, wasn’t it?

I’m trying something a little different on this edit: I’m just reading the story first. Not going through with pencil in hand and notebook at the ready. Not with one eye on the adverb-elimination cheat-sheet on the wall. Not with my spell-checking and grammar-sensitive goggles in place. Just reading.

And maybe it helps that I’ve spent about nine months working on another project? Or that I mentally divorced myself from the original beginning of this particular story right around the time I reached the halfway point? Or that the past few months of drafting have worn me down as surely as desert sandstorms have blasted the face from the Sphinx? Or, maybe, and yeah, this is probably an ocean liner sinking under the weight of wishful thinking, but maybe I’m actually getting better at this drafting thing?

But it’s not that bad.

I mean, it’s raw. And it needs cleaning up. And I’m fast approaching the point where the bridge washed out, where I stopped worrying so much about making sure every little bit fit together and focused instead on telling the story that wanted to be told, that the screaming ego monkey wanted to tell. There’s pain ahead on this journey, no doubt.

But what really jumps out? It’s actually kind of fun to read. I mean, it reads like a book I wouldn’t mind reading. Sure, I know what’s coming and I know what glue fills in the cracks in the facade. But all the same, it feels like I’m just kicking back with a good book. Which is the goal, right? Don’t they say that in therapy? You have to love yourself first, before anybody else can?

So, the edit is starting off swimmingly. The weather is gorgeous — way too gorgeous for February, to be sure, but I guess we ought not to look this gift weather horse in the mouth until it global-warming incinerates us with the hottest summer on record in the coming months. I’m running comfortably and pain-free for the first time in recent memory. And we’ve got a week’s vacation coming up; plenty of time for me to read through the book and start the real work of ripping its guts out and hacking it back together.

Things are looking up.


Seams Impossible


It was a fun week off, but tomorrow I’m back to work on that least enjoyable step in the creative process: editing. I’ve edited a novel before, but man … looking at the edits ahead of me is a little bit like staring down the craggy peaks of Everest. This stuff ain’t gonna be easy.

I’ve taken the conventional wisdom for editing perhaps too much to heart, giving myself plenty of time in between drafts. Ideally, they say, you want to come back to your work as a new reader would come to the story, divorced from any cuddly feelings the author might have for this or that character or plot point. In my case, it’s been something like nine months since the ink dried on the first draft of the story I’m about to tackle. And the parallels between a nine-month fermenting process for a story and the time it takes to fully cook a human baby (yeah that looks a little wrong as I sit here and re-read it) are probably too obvious to list.

So: the characters in the story are likely to appear pretty fargoing foreign to me, especially given that I seem to recall introducing some pretty massive shifts in their development about forty percent of the way in. Likewise the plotting, since I’m fairly certain that my past self left a note to my future self to rewrite most of the beginning of the story with a different character as the protagonist. Oh, that Past Me. How easy it must be to come up with these tremendously bold ideas when you don’t have to do any of the legwork. Wouldn’t it be cool if your antagonist were a sentient pile of roaches instead of just a really nasty dude? How about if we set the entire story in an underwater hidden city? Or maybe the story all stays the same, except that now every single character speaks a different language? This guy, I tell ya. Just because he’s pouring the magical unfiltered story-gunk out through his fingers, he thinks he can suggest just any old thing.

Of course, without those crazy ideas — not the dumb ones, mind, because you can’t go diving down every rabbit hole to see what’s at the bottom — the story feels rote, uninspired, like a cardboard sandwich slathered in gluey mayonnaise. Some of the rabbit holes have to be explored, and that’s what the second draft is for: turning down the side streets that you noticed in the first draft but didn’t have the time for. Abandoning the main thread of the story you found yourself telling and hacking into the newly discovered jungle of the story you could tell.

And then, of course, comes the real work: the part where you look around at all the strewn and scattered bits of story, littering the floor like so much discarded fabric at a dressmaker’s, you collect the bits that look the least objectionable, and you start sewing.

So: may my needles stay sharp, may my plot threads not fray, and may my eye for fashion be clear. It’s going to take all that and more to get through this one.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Weekly Re-Motivator:An Accumulation of Oddities


If your house is anything like mine, the stuff just sort of seems to accumulate. (Doubly or maybe exponentially true if you have kids, and doubly exponentially if those kids are particularly young.) You see this or that shiny doodad, and you think, gosh,the kids would just love that, and because we live in America we buy the thing. Or a loving and well-meaning grandparent will make a gift of some battery-powered monstrosity that belches out Christmas music if it detects movement within a square mile. Or the kids themselves will bring home toys covered in foreign guck and another kid’s nose slime. (How do they get these toys away from other kids, I wonder? My kids can sense it — and immediately pitch a fit — if I so much as touch a stray eye from a long-lost mister Potato head doll.)

But even without kids, it happens. You’re at the mall for some reason, and you think, that’s a nice looking shirt. I wear shirts. Let me give some of my money for that thing. Even though you need another shirt like your kids need another toy. Or you pick up another fancy running gizmo or some inspirational book of quotes or an odd lamp you like the look of.

And it just adds up. It’s not a bad thing, per se. But with so much stuff, it becomes easy to lose track of things. Easy to take things for granted.

hoarders

And if you’re not careful, the same thing can happen to your stories. For me, this usually comes in the form of a sentence, half-formed in my mind, that goes something like: wouldn’t it be cool if…

this minor inconvenience character turned out to be related to the main villain?

…the bad guys stole the thing that the good guys need to make their lives work?

…the mentor character’s cat starts phasing forward and backward in time?

All of which are fine and interesting and may well reach the final cut. Unfortunately, the mind, like the house cat that indiscriminately murders local fauna and deposits them on the doorstep, also drops off less-inspired idea corpses like…

There should totally be a paper-and-pen motif in this chapter.

Maybe the villain should have an electric puppy.

Feathers. Feathers everywhere.

Problem is, in the heat of a daily word-count grinding session, the gems are indistinguishable from the crystallized turds. You see them float past on the shelf of consciousness, think, oh, sure, that works for my story, and into the story sausage they go.

And again, that’s not a bad thing per se.

But just like the stuff that piles up in your house, this crap accumulates and chokes off a good story. Before you know it, you’re struggling to pick a clean path through your story, its every spare passageway littered with the half-formed iterations of these little oddities that, like the snot-caked stormtrooper my kid brought home the other day, you have no idea where they came from.

The little curiosities are a powerful spice, fascinating and interesting in moderation, overpowering and inedible if overused. Which means that, just like every now and then you have to go through the house and purge all the junk that no longer brings you joy, so, too, does a story in subsequent drafts need a brutal bit of spring cleaning.

The tricky thing, of course, is making sure you don’t accidentally put a priceless heirloom out on the curb by mistake.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Beer-Can Fix


Beer Can, Marine, Waste, Moss

One of my favorite moments from Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle comes around the end of the first third of the book. The dysfunctional family, composed of an alcoholic engineer father and a tree-hugging lunatic religious mother and their four kids, inherits a relatively palatial house in Phoenix. (I’ll point out that the mother is a lunatic who happens to be religious, rather than a religious person who is, by extension, a lunatic). The house has termites, though, and before long the floors become unstable, to the point where a misplaced step results in somebody’s foot going through the floor. This proceeds until it can’t any longer, at which point the father enacts a fix which is simultaneously brilliant and idiotic. He buys a six-pack of beer. Downs one. Uses his tin snips to turn the can into a little metal tile. Then hammers the can down over the hole. This process repeats anytime the family kicks a new hole in the floor, which is often. It’s the height of pragmatism — he’s going to drink anyway, so why not use it to fix the floor — and ridiculousness — picture the lovely parquet floor pockmarked with Budweisers and PBRs.

And I have a similar favorite moment in Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Dude’s hog has a problem with its steering. They know that the repair that’s needed (some sort of ionized stripping installed around the axle or whatever) will be prohibitively expensive; several hundred bucks. The narrator points out that the repair can be effected — not as a stop-gap measure, but well and truly fixed — by snipping a beer can open, cutting it to fit, and wrapping the strip around the steering bits (I don’t cars, sorry NOT SORRY). The beer can, which is oxidized (or un-oxidized or whatever) on the liquid side so as to safely contain the beer, serves as a perfect insulator that won’t break down or rust over time. But the dude isn’t about to have his brand-new motorcycle, the epitome of engineering, repaired by a lowly can of beer. He doesn’t accept that it could work. So he drives it with the janky steering until he can overpay for a “proper” repair.

Why are these moments banging against each other in my head like literary pinballs? Well, I’m nearing the end of the edit on my first novel, and I’m ironing out the last few problems. Spoiler-free, the problems are: I’ve got some characters who pull a disappearing act when they shouldn’t, and others who don’t pull a disappearing act when they should. I’d been mulling the problem for a few days when a startlingly simple solution struck me.

And then today it struck me that maybe the solution was too simple. Too pat. Too surface-level. Maybe I was patching my busted floor with a spent beer can. So I find myself wondering whether I’m fixing these last few problems “properly”. Whether, a la The Glass Castle, I’m using ridiculous if not trashy easy fixes for problems that need deep, structural focus and foundational repair. Or, whether, a la Zen, I’m overthinking things and the beer can is not only adequate, but more elegant and simple than a highfalutin ground-up rethink.

At this point it’s probably impossible for me to know. I mean, I didn’t catch this mistake on my first read-through (nor did one of my readers, actually). My wife caught it. (Thanks, wife!) So the fix probably will look equally fine to me.

There’s only one thing that’s actually clear in all of this.

Beer fixes everything.

If only I liked beer.


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