I have been so focused on productivity for the past few months, I have neglected my editing.
Now that I have three manuscripts completed—let the editing games begin.
And oh boy, let the editing games begin.
I decided to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start—and you’re welcome for that song being in your head from now until eternity. The only way to cure it is to start singing “This is the song that never ends…” oops…good luck). I opened my first manuscript, which in all fairness is a novel I started when I was sixteen years old and finished when I was around 22. I’ve continually gone back and forth to and from it, kind of like a security blanket. I love the plot, because, let’s face it, it’s my first novel and I am attached to the characters, but there has always been something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that bothered me about the whole story.
It hit me a few months ago—this story has WAY too much BACKSTORY. Sure, I care—that’s because I’ve been in love with these characters since I was sixteen. But you won’t. My readers will stop reading after the first sentence probably because it’s pretty lame. I mean seriously, read this:
The creaking floorboard sounded eerily loud in the engulfing silence of the vacant room.
I shuddered when I went back and read it. 14 words just to say “the empty room was quiet.” And what is that vacant room even supposed to mean? Very little in the grand scheme of things. That whole chapter is back story—why she’s there, what she’s doing, who she is—explained in meticulous detail.
So I gutted it.
I deleted the first three chapters.
It only hurt a little, but the new beginning gave the novel new life. Compare the two:
The creaking floorboard sounded eerily loud in the engulfing silence of the vacant room. The air smelled musty and old but strangely comforting in the peaceful hush. For years the building stood in the center of downtown, as tall and proud as one of the Queen’s soldiers at Buckingham Palace thousands of miles from Bentenville, Texas.
A second creaking broke the silence with the firm step of the determined Andrea Honor Cartier, who intended to do more than just break the silence. She would have her way with the building first by eliminating the years of redundancy with necessary restorations and renovations, and then by inviting change that would bring new life to the stoic solider.
At least that’s what she told herself as she stopped in the center of the large open room eyeing every inch of space the building had to offer. She closed her eyes and listened to the silence soon broken by Liz Tonnozi’s voice whispering through her memory.
“Andi, do you want to have some real fun today?” Liz Tonnozi asked as she sat across from her friend Sunday morning. She was stretched out on the couch kicking her legs up in the air while Andi read a book in the recliner across from her. Liz hadn’t been there more than five minutes before she’d broken Andi’s cone of silence with her less than rhetorical question.
Andrea Cartier, recently liberated debutante from Atlanta, looked at the much more relaxed Liz from over the top of her book. While Liz had never been one to follow convention, Andrea, or Andi to her friends, sat up straight even when she was relaxing. Under her mother’s watchful eye, Andi had learned that when in polite company a lady never touched the back of her chair.
Liz didn’t care about the rules of polite company. And with five brothers, she only occasionally recognized that she was a lady.
I spent three chapters introducing these two characters before when in these three paragraphs, I gave you a distinct impression of the two from the get-go. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t compromise the basic plot—it’s still there, I’m just editing it for style, because let’s face it, I’ve learned a lot since I was 22. And that’s what I love about the writing process.
Writing is about change. Continual, never ending, constant, on the move, change. It’s why it is a process and it will never be perfect. By definition, a process is a systematic series of actions directed toward some end—a continuous ACTION or series of CHANGES and oh how we all rebel against both of those ideas.
Taking action is hard.
No one wants to admit that something they worked for years on still needs work—a lot of work—before it reaches any kind of definite end. And yet, unless some kind of definite action is taken, what good can come of it.
And if taking action is hard, change, ugh, who likes change anyway? For years I rebelled against the idea of taking anything out of the novel because I’d spent so long putting it in there in the first place. BUT if it’s useless crap, then that kind of change is good. Just like cutting the dead ends off your hair helps it grow.
The thing about a process though—it’s not the song that never ends. At some point, you do get to get off that small world ride (oh look, now you have that one stuck in your head) and if you’re really lucky—and you take definite action—you see something beautiful. After all, a caterpillar doesn’t become a butterfly till it breaks out of that chrysalis and a writer doesn’t become an author till she learns how to adapt, change, and publish her work.