Editing: The Cut the Dead Wood Out Edition

Anyone who knows me (and probably a lot of people who don’t) and who has been listening to me bitch over the last month and a half has probably known that I’ve been armpit deep into a major edit.

Writers, here is the down lo: Editing a manuscript is not easy. Editing a first manuscript is enough to make you tear your eyeballs out with your jaggedly fingernailed hands (jagged because who has time for a manicure when there’s so much to do?) and throw said peepers across the kitchen and into the compost bowl. Your eyes will belong with the slugs and the fruit flies after a gazillion hours of cut and paste, semi-and-major plot shifts, and more cut, cut, cutting.

Obviously, it’s my feeling that my story is good. This story is my life, on more than one level. If I’d thought it was a stupid story, a horrible story, or a meager attempt, I would have cut my losses and erased all 175K words from my hard drive the weekend after attending my first writers conference. (In San Francisco. In 2009.) That weekend was an eyeball-opener, when I learned that what I thought was complete was so far from it, I might well have started from scratch. But you know me, hard-headed. I have a burning need to complete this novel to my satisfaction. And I would not have invested in critique groups, in associations, in conference fees, in online classes, in reference books, in following authors or studying (stalking) agents, or in editing services if I thought the book wasn’t worth it. (Let’s not add all those boxes of hair color to that fire. I have children I can blame my gray hair on.) No, I would have given up on fiction and continued my path as a wag and food snob and travel reviewer, with occasional forays into opinion pieces.

I still love food and travel, and I have plenty of opinions, but I made the choice to write a N-O-V-E-L. Writing fiction is an awesome choice, one fraught with pitfalls, one full of responsibility, and certainly not one taken lightly.

Editing is like trimming a tree. I personally subscribe to the Sukiya  or Japanese style of pruning. I try to get as close to the tree trunk as possible. I might sit under it or inside. I study whether the branches cross. I snip away anything that does, or any growth that might point down. Unlike Western gardeners, who whip out their electric trimmers and hack from the outside, I trim from within.

You know what they say, cut the dead wood out, new growth will take off.

Now that the major plot shift hurdle has been achieved, I’m back on the path of not-so-major editing. You know, tightening up my sentences, Things have been going swimmingly, at least the last few days. But in case you don’t get enough advice as to how to edit, here are a few tips that have worked for me.

1. Back story – do you need it? I thought I needed mine. After the twenty-fifth edit (or thereabouts), I realized why I wrote it in. Back story is comforting to a writer. It supports the reason for the character’s being in the writer’s mind. Other that that, you really don’t need it. The reader doesn’t need it. The reader first wants to be let in on your world. Your character must be sympathetic enough for the reader to want read on. Later on you can explain your character’s motivation by using the back story. LATER ON. I’m now in the process of eliminating all references to back story in the first part of my book. I plan on introducing some of it in the second and third parts. Where it belongs.

2. Passive verbs. Was, is, weak verbs, take them out. Change the sentence structure so that your verbs are meaty. You’re not going to eliminate all of those passive verbs, but you can definitely remove a ton.

3. Adverbs, adjectives – No, no, and no. In this current run through, I can see – clearly – too many descriptors. I’m taking out all that are unnecessary.

and finally…

4. Dialogue. It’s a good idea to read OUT LOUD your dialogue. I’ve done it several times already, but this last trip down the editing lane, I realized the speech of the son was rather stilted. Excellent grammar and good English, but not how a 20-year-old would speak. Even the socialite wouldn’t quite speak the way I had her speaking.

Keep in mind that I’m no expert and am only a student of the written word. And while the book’s not perfect – yet – I think I’ll still bask in the glow of my modest achievements.

The Upside to Writing

I will divert myself from lamenting of the woes and trauma associated with writing and trying to get published. Writing is a lot like golf: too many things to think about. Swing, conditions, clubs, stance, reach, etc. Just when you get one thing right, something else falls to the wayside and you’re back to square one. Yada, yada, yada.

Let’s not forget one thing, however; there is an upside to writing.

I’m basking in mine at the moment. 🙂

My friend, Edie, wanted to read VIRTUALLY YOURS, but she’s not very Internet savvy and doesn’t have her own eReader, instead occasionally borrowing one from her friend. On a completely random note having ABSOLUTELY nothing whatsoever to do with this post, HERE is her son. (He’s a hottie.) Edie didn’t want to burden her friend by asking her to buy the book on Amazon ($3.59! Now on sale!). It’s only in ebook format, but I just so happened to have a few review copies in the back of my car, leftovers from when I had sent them to a few book bloggers, so I gave Edie one.

It’s taken her a few days to read, but 20 pages in, she texted me and said how much she loved it. Then halfway through, she called me and wanted to be friends with all of the Virtual Moms. (I’d explained to her that I based this book on a real online group I belong to.) Then came another text wanting to know what was up with Ashe. (It’s a spoiler, so I’m not going to say.)

I saw her at my jewelry class yesterday, and she finally made it through the Big Reveal. “I thought **** was ****! And she remarked how similar the Virtual Mom relationships were like her longtime girlfriends she has known for 30 years. Last night, I received a text saying she finished, she loved it, and when was the sequel coming out.

This morning, I received a short voice mail from her, thanking me for allowing her to read my review copy, and that she can’t stop thinking about the characters, they are so real and interesting. Where the story will take them, where will they be, what will happen in the future.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to bring her a blurb the next time I see her. VIRTUALLY YOURS FOREVER, covers all of that and more. Now I am wondering if I should consider writing yet another novel based on these characters. Perhaps, from the kids’ points of view? The possibilities are boundless.

Listen, I know I may never grace the New York Times Best Seller’s List. I might never win awards for my writing. But the glow a writer gets from just ONE satisfied reader provides enough motivation for me to slog on through the mundane or the bad times. The next time I feel writer’s block coming on (rarely these days, but it can happen), I’m going to refer back to this week, remembering Edie singing my praises.

Writing and Finding Your Inner Artist

If you’ve wondered where I’ve been, the editing of Finding Cadence has taken up a lion’s share of my time. Update: I’m still on the second part, although I’m very close to nailing it down, and will then go on to the third part, which will be more like a second edit since it’s so full of new plot twists and characters. The ending is also new.

In the meantime, I’ve finally figured out the RWA PRO loop. I’ve been PRO for over a year, but Yahoo! forums make me want to sell all of my modern devices and go live in a forest somewhere, a forest without electricity. For one, I can’t get into my Yahoo! mail, because my password changed (!) and my attempts to recover are futile. Even when I got into the mail, 90% of it was junk, and I’d spend an hour or so deleting the junk. Somehow, the Yahoo! loop mail now gets transferred to my regular email account. How that happens, please do not ask me. I’m woefully terrible on the computer.

The main topic for the PROs this week was sales, going indie, and more sales. Small house vs. Big House vs. indie, self-pub vs. helped self-pub, etc. The upside of this rather depressing exchange is that selling 100 books is actually not a bad thing (I mention this because that’s just about what I’ve sold). Many, many authors sell that or less. Many, many PRO authors.

I’ve said before that I just don’t get into sales. I have a product, but I’m not going to push it. My lackadaisical attitude probably stems from the fact that when I want to buy something, I despise getting “sold.” Not to decry salesmen (although the used car salesmen are rather slimy-I can say that because there are some in my family) many of whom are great people, but that’s just not me. I’m similarly that way with my jewelry. If people are interested, cool, if not, cool too. In this world, there is art for everyone. I won’t be offended if you don’t like mine.

I might mention VIRTUALLY YOURS every once in a while (currently ranked 519,148 HA!), but I don’t spam my Facebook or Twitter feed with impassioned pleas to buy. I don’t have a “real” author web site, although someday I might, when there is more than one book available. Perhaps if I begged, or invested in blog tours, or passed out freebies, or stood on my head, I could sell more than 100 books.

But…I do not use my creative side to make money (obviously). Being in the business of making money rather sucks. You have to push, sell (a little bit), cut corners, stay within budget, and worry, worry, worry. Oh, we need to make money, and I do it in my day job, but it’s not what I live to do. I’m an artist; I live to create.

Coincidentally, I’m taking another Savvy Author class, this one on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She looks at writing as what it is: art.

Unlike a job, though, being an artist requires a certain amount of freedom. You must free yourself from all sorts of conflicts (anger, shame) inside yourself. This makes perfect sense to me, and is how I generally look at living, as though it’s a spiritual journey. A person full of fear, loathing, angst, and doubt cannot possibly make the best art. Of course, trying and trying again, perfecting the art, as well as the artist, is the whole point.

And this week, I was also directed by Book Baby to this post by Michael Larsen of the San Francisco Writers Conference and the Larsen Pomada Literary Agency. Creating Your Literary Ecosystem-I liked it! The ten “P’s” of writing. I was so impressed, I printed it out to keep near my computer when I write.

You see, I might never be a best-selling author, but I will truly be the best artist I can be.

🙂

Editing the Speedy Way

This weekend’s editing was frustrating, among other things. But Tuesday afternoon I came home and went back at it. Whoa! So much easier that day (why, don’t ask me), and I managed to eliminate another couple thousand worthless words (sorry, “just,” but you’re just not worth it). Having completed the first third of the novel – and feeling very satisfied, indeed – I decided to take a break and cruised around the Internet.

That’s where I found AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It looked interesting, so I decided to test out a few hundred words of the newly edited Part I. In a few short seconds (amazingly short), I received the results. I found I was not in the “danger” zone on anything, except for three cliches (in 40K words, that’s awesome). I’d done a good job of eliminating my overused words, my empty words, and adverbs. Yay, me!

Let me preface this post by saying I do not recommend this form of editing. There is nothing better than to learn the proper way to write, create, and edit. Yes, yes, I know. I am a pantser, but one with an enormous library of reference books and an Internet bookmark list of good writing web sites to back me up. Plus, I am cheap, very cheap. The AutoCrit Editor is expensive; well, expensive to a writer who has sunk a lot of time, energy, and money into reference books and decent editors. At $117 a year for a “membership” – it’s not software you own –  it’s not like Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die ($10 donation, and one payment allows you to put the software on every computer you own).

However, AutoCrit is a very fun diversion. I entered a short story I’d written at 16 (second place winner in a city contest) and found it was full of terrible errors. Like I didn’t know that before… when I look at it now, I cringe. To remain on the “free” side of things, you can submit 400 – 700 words to AutoCrit at a time, so it might do well as a final polish to a scene or chapter.

Now, back to work.

Happy New Year! Some Sadness… Now Get Back to Work!

I’ve been hit by a case of the lazies, and it’s only January 4. So this is my announcement that as soon as I post this, I’m going back to editing.

In the meantime, here’s the scoop: I’ve been successfully larded up by the holidays, so will now go into anti-hibernation mode. This includes the writing schedule. For Christmas, one of my little birdies flew back into the nest with her boyfriend. Visitors are a high-caloric time suck. Now that they have returned to San Francisco, I can get busy.

I had a semi-depression on the day before New Years Eve. That’s because I decided to visit the Facebook page of one of my writing friends.

I knew something was up. He hadn’t felt very well throughout the spring and summer. He was like me, posting a couple of things a day on Facebook, then going back to working on his novel or his real life pursuits. All of a sudden, I noted a lack of posts. But I don’t spend much time on the Book of Face, so I figured we were both busy.

Actually, something in the back of my mind scared me from searching further. Something ominous. I’ve always prided myself on my intuition, but this premonition was uncomfortable.

This past Sunday, I decided to look him up, and that’s when I learned the bad news: my internet writing friend had passed away.

His other Facebook friends left glowing accolades, ones that my friend deserved. Because he was not only a writer, a blogger, and a published author, he was also a doctor, a husband, and a father. He played golf and played bluegrass, both fairly well. He possessed a sense of being that’s rare to find. And although he passed away much too young (just 3 years older than I am), he lived a life that can only be described as overflowing.

We couldn’t be more different, he a country doctor in North Carolina and me a sassy Jill of All Trades in the Rust Belt, but I think he liked me. I certainly liked him. He gave me tips on everything, the writing, the music, the golf, the child-rearing, even on the tenuous life of the self-employed.

As I scrolled down the wonderful wishes, all I could think was thank goodness he lived to see his book being published.

I was sad and sick to my stomach for two days. Would I ever see my own book being published by a Real Live Publishing House? I mean before I die. Or was I destined to exit without seeing my goals being met?

I wallowed in my loss for forty-eight hours.

Then I took out my manuscript and started to edit.

NaNoWriMo: Brief Tip #2: Forgive Yourself for Falling Off the Wagon.

Day Five of National Novel Writing Month.

After a quick start for Days One and Two, Real Life reared an ugly head and put a temporary kabosh on my NaNoWriMo goals.

All you fledgling writers out there participating in this month’s NaNo knows that you must write approximately 1700 words per day in order to get to 50K by the end of the month. Well, sometimes that happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. It will especially NOT happen if your full time work is NOT writing, or if you’re NOT retired or NOT a lifetime recipient of the MegaMillions jackpot.

In that case, do what I did today: make up for those two days of unproductive looking at your laptop with longing by a marathon writing session when you can afford to do so.

I’ve written 8K words in a day of NaNoWriMo, so I know it can be done. As long as you persevere, you can forgive yourself a day off (or two).

However, despite the reasons why-good, bad, or lame-if you fall off the wagon temporarily, get back up and get on! If you fall off the wagon permanently, forgive yourself and vow to get back on sometime in the future.

Remember, the whole point is to incorporate writing into your daily life. Sure you want to sketch out a novel, and some succeed in doing so. But the competition is not with the thousands of people out there, the competition resides  within. And since you are competing against (or for) yourself, you owe it to yourself to be kind.

Keep writing.

NaNoWriMo: Brief Tip Number One: The More You Write, the More You Write

Today is November 1, and I am once again participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

I find it helpful to concentrate on the novel during November, so I won’t post much to the blog. However, I plan on the occasional little blurb regarding writing in general and writing during NaNo.

First of all, the no-brainer tip: The more you write, the more you write.

What does this mean? Simply put, if you manage to carve out a little time each day, you will eventually make a habit of writing. It doesn’t matter if the time is ten minutes or ten hours, any effort toward your art is a positive one.

I know, it seems incredibly simple. But there is no magic potion you can take, or book you could read, or class you can attend to increase your words per day. (Barring Dr. Wicked. It’s a program that helps.) The only thing writers can do is write. The more you write, the more you’re willing to write. Also, the more the creative juices flow.

If you as a writer make writing like breathing, i.e. a necessary function, the better your writing will be. You’ll write more because you want to.

(This probably seems like jibberish. Please excuse me.)

For those who have no time, take my word for it. Ten minutes a day.