Tag Archives: editing

Let the EDITING games BEGIN

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.


Adjusting the Pace: Writing that Moves

Lately I’ve been working on improving the rhythm and the flow to my writing. This is not an easy task to accomplish. Faulkner liked stream of consciousness. And while I am not all about page long sentences, I do tend to like description and longer complex sentences.

In my critique group we talked about the importance of ‘white space’. For some reason, this didn’t sit well with me either. White space looks boring–it looks messy and sloppy–lazy even.

But white space can be good.

White space helps with pacing as it helps move along the action of the story with dialogue and by mixing direct, simple sentences with the complex. Unfortunately, changing your writing habits is not easy and so you practice.

As a writing trend, I’ve been reading Stephen Kings book, On Writing and his chapter on editing “And Furthermore, part I” is helpful as it cites Strunk’s style guide suggestions of “eliminating the unnecessary”. This is advice I give to my students every year and advice I continually have to remind myself to follow on a regular basis.

Yesterday I read This Blog on “boring writing”–the parts of the text that quiets down the writing so that the more interesting parts can shine (to me, that means your climax can only be climatic if there are parts that aren’t so climatic surrounding it). Sometimes readers need a break, and as writers that is a part of the process of building suspense and action–we first have to quiet our readers to then shake them up. So how do we quiet our writing? And how much is too much?

Acquiring a Writing Game Plan

declutter 3


In writing about this challenge, I’ve decided to address all of the challenges but in a slightly different order than what Goins had listed. After you have started to build your writing (stealing and starting), I feel it is important to keep yourself organized and decluttered. You need a game plan. Until you come up with a way to keep yourself writing and accountable you won’t take yourself seriously as a writer. Every great writer knows the same. As Ray Bradbury says,

 “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

The problem is finding the discipline to write in spite of or in addition to our already hectic lives can be problematic. So to make writing a priority, you have to come up with a plan. First is to declutter your writing space—if you have a writing space. If you don’t, you should set aside a space for yourself. I have found that when you have a designated space it becomes sacred. That’s the reason why “man caves” are such a popular concept. You don’t mess with a man in his man cave or a person crafting dinner in the kitchen. That is their space for whatever craft they are producing (or not producing). Writers need space too. Find a space, keep it sacred.

Declutter 1 Declutter 2

 Then make a plan for how you are going to write seriously and stick to it. During the past year, I realized that if I was truly going to claim the title I would have to make writing more of a priority in my life. The difference between writing being a hobby and being an occupation is the amount of time, effort, and dedication you give to it. Isn’t that true of sports? Your sport can be a pastime or you can “go pro”. Of course, going pro means you get paid for your work, which is the ultimate goal of any writer, but to do such a thing you have to put in the conditioning hours first like any athlete would. So you make a plan. The key is to make your plan realistic.

I decided to make my plan 250 words per day and to model it after the “magic spreadsheet” concept I discovered online. I am not a part of a community with the magic spreadsheet as I found recording it on a shared spreadsheet to be a little over my digital capacity/skill-set, but I created my own and I keep track of my “points” and I post it on my website so my followers and supporters can keep me accountable. And they ask me about it constantly, especially my close friends. This plan and accountability step has been crucial this past year in my success as a writer. The more I write, the more I produce and the more I continue to grow as a writer.

Magic spreadsheet 1

Only then can I work on de-cluttering my writing, which  is all a part of the editing process. Less is more. Wordy does not mean “smart” a lesson I have to teach my students over and over again every year—a lesson I have to learn over and over again as I continue to write. I start with my goal of reaching certain word counts, then I polish and declutter it as I edit.

Connect, Share, and Publish 

Once my own goals are established and I have my plans in place, then my confidence begins to build. Harper Lee once said,

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”

And every knows why she would advise all writers in this way. Developing confidence is one way to develop the “thick hide”. Does that mean your confidence cannot shatter; of course not, but it does ensure that you have a leg to stand on as you face criticism. It also helps as you start putting yourself out there more and more, which is why connecting with others and networking is also a vital part of the process. Other writers not only help you develop as a writer, they are your support system. Without this support, you are not likely to succeed. I went out in my community and looked for support wherever I could find it. In Winston, there is a wonderful group—The Winston Salem Writers (http://wswriters.org/). They develop workshops, critique groups, outings, contests, and all sorts of places and events for writers to connect on multiple levels. Joining the group is a worthwhile investment for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to help you connect to a local group of artists. During the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance flourished and developed not because of the vast amount of creativity and genius that flowed from the African American writers, poets, and artists. Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and a multitude of others emerged and were heard because they came together as a community and supported one another. They connected, they collaborated, and they supported each other; as a result the human race was able to receive beautiful new additions to our literary history that might have remained buried in obscurity otherwise. Artists should always learn from the past and continue to thrive with each other’s help.


Stories and Lies

When I was a little girl I was taught that we do not lie for any reason. In my childish brain this meant that when you do something wrong or something that you are not supposed to do then you do not make up a story about it. If you do, then something on par with a lightning strike coming down from the very heavens might come and strike you down or the earth might swallow you whole. Despite this engrained fear of fabrication, I still managed to distinguish the stories that are regarded as lies from the stories that are considered creative writing genius. From this moment of eminent discovery, I have been spitting out stories in as many ways as I can and preparing to one day teach writing to others. During spring cleaning this year, I stumbled across this pure writing genius from the late 1990s entitled “Twisted Kidnapping”.

                 My Father was killed in a freak accident about 6 months ago. He went out with some friends one night, and got drunk. When he was walking to his car he ran out right in front of a Pepsi truck and was killed instantly. My Mother was killed after giving birth to her sixth boy. After her death, about 2 months ago, all my brothers were sent to an orphanage 2 blocks down. I’m 16 so they let me stay at my preacher,   Herman Mister’s, house until further notice. He was a very nice man. One day he gave me this letter that said I was to stay at my Uncle Bert’s house. I’ve never met my Uncle so I had no idea what to expect. I set out immediately for my uncle’s house. The letter said that my uncle lived in a town called Clarence Ville. About 2 days later I arrived at Clarence Ville. I stopped a young man, at about the age of 20, to ask him about how to get to Bert’s house. “Excuse me…?” “The name’s Clarence “I, um I’m Peanut McDoodle, do you know where I can find Mr. Bert?” “Well sure, but you don’twant to find him!?” “Yes I do.” “If you say so, He lives in that log cabin over there.” “Thanks, by the way, did they name this town after you ?” “No, well yes, you see every man or boy’s name is Clarence, and every woman or girl’s name is Clare.” “Oh, okay, well thanks again! Later!” “Bye” What a strange town I thought. _____________________________ I looked up and up and up. My Uncle’s house was at least 5 stories tall. I felt like screaming and running away. The house was a dirt brown color with a chimney that is cement and gray. Next to the house was a half finished water tower. It is yellow orange and red striped all the way up. To where the builder left off. Just as I was getting up enough nerve to knock on the door, it opened! Out came a man, the ugliest man I’ve ever seen! He had at least 2 warts on his nose and 1 on his cheek, It made me so sick1 “Who are YOU???the man said in a bossy, sassy ,snobby ,voice. “I’m P-P-Peanut McDoodle, sir.” “My brother’s son?” “Yes.” “Well, come in, come in. You must be hungry, eat some of this bread, then I’ll show you to your room” True to his word right after a slice of bread he led me up the stairs to the fifth story bedroom. As soon as I stepped inside the room, he locked the door. “Hey, HEY! Let me OUT! LET ME OUT!?” I screamed. When no one answered I sat down and started to think. I had a PLAN! ______________________________ THUMP!! “What are you doing up there boy?” No answer. “I said What are you……?” He stopped short when he opened his door. There were bed sheets hanging out of the window and the mattress was lying on the ground. Suddenly out of no where the boy jumped out right in front of Bert, kicked him the ankle and ran locking the door behind him. As soon as he got outside he pulled the bed sheets down and moved the mattress out from in front of the window. He looked around and saw a bag of rabid chipmunks. Probably meant for me I thought. Well I‘ll just use his powers against him!! I through the bag in the window and sat outside the door with a shot gun in handy. There was a loud scream and silence. Abducted by WHAT? About 2 days after my Uncle’s death as I was finishing the water tower when a grey hound bus pulled up. Someone stepped out took me by the hand and forced me on the bus, and knocked me over the head, I passed out. When I finally came to a 3 foot chipmunk was handing me a piece of bread. Ok. Now I have seen a lot in my life, but a 3 foot chipmunk? That’s when I saw him, Clint Eastwood. I was so surprised I passed out again. When I came to again I saw many pictures on the walls. Pictures of Mars and the Moon and all the other Planets. I was very stunned.

I didn’t edit this at all, simply copied and pasted. What it shows is an immature but deep appreciation for storytelling and writing—and the personality of a young girl who had a creative mind, a healthy imagination and a respect for distinguishing fact from fiction. Writing is not a science. It does not have a perfect formulaic equation that will work every time to produce a perfect work of art (Clearly! Just read the above again!). However, there are certain skills that we can teach ourselves and students in order to produce better expository, persuasive and creative writing. Most people know the steps of the writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising and proofing. However, just knowing the steps to the writing process is not enough to succeed in the process, there has to be something more. When I was in the fourth grade, I was a terrible writer. My diction and grammar were horrible and messy. It was this time period that solidified my belief in learning and teaching good writing skills and the encouragement that needs follow to help each kid find their niche. I still remember one of the papers that I wrote in fourth grade. I do not have a hard copy of it anymore, but I remember what it was that caused it to stick in my memory so forcefully. It wasn’t the organization or the diction, but rather the comments my teacher made. It was a creative writing assignment that I wrote about a girl who was lying to her mother about keeping a skunk in her room as a pet. The skunk gave off a terrible odor one day when her mother came into check up on the girl, but instead of telling her mother the truth, the girl lied and made the excuse that she had ‘farted.’ My teacher was impressed with my ability to cultivate a story that complex at my age, which was the kind of encouragement that I was used to from my teachers. But that is not what I remember the most. After she praised my story, she told me that using the word ‘fart’ in a paper was inappropriate. That dumbfounded me. It seems to me that in writing, and in teaching writing, it is difficult to say to a student that they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ because it is the unconventional creative writers that thrive.  However, had the piece been non-fiction or expository her comment would have had more of a foundation, because different kinds of diction are required for the various types of writing. My teacher’s comment has taught me what I want to pass on to others about writing as a process, but even more importantly, it educated me on what I do not want to pass on. Instead of teaching formulas, writing requires an initial demonstration of methodology followed by intense practice. Since my fourth grade epiphany, I have been perfecting this theory. Often during my education courses we were encouraged to be supportive of students’ work. We were told to use reinforcement instead of punishment in order to fully develop the students’ abilities. This kind of thinking applies to teaching writing too, but more importantly we should encourage the students to find themselves in their writing. Much of the writing process is recognizing yourself as a writer.  Becoming  aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer helps you to improve your own work. Commenting on style, appreciating uniqueness and encouraging creativity can all help a others recognize their own writing niche. Once a writer identifies their own voice they can work with it to make it the best it can possibly be. However, if the voice remains foreign, the writer’s understanding is inhibited by confusion. The writer spends most of their time scrambling to make sense out of the unknown and falls behind as a result. As teachers, writers and critiquers, it is our job to facilitate the discovery of the self to help each other become thriving writers. Many of these comments and ideas are theories, ideas I have learned in school which will help me, but not nearly as much as experience. Just like Scientific theories must be tested, so must writing theories. Because my parents taught me not to lie, I discovered how to write.  My fourth grade teacher encouraged me to create, and so I formulated an opinion on teachers and writing. I have had many good teachers who have taught me about subject matter and theory, but experience has been the best teacher that I have ever had, so I end up with stories that read more like this:

          Eerie quiet hugged the house in the early morning hours. Feeling like an intruder, Andi made herself continue for the door instead of returning to the comfort of the upstairs bedroom. Once outside, she took calculating steps down to the lawn, where she sat down with her legs stretched out in front of her. She felt her muscles tighten in protestation as she reached for her toes, sheltered by her faithful, worn Shox TL Nike—the most expensive running shoe around. As she sat up again, her muscles gave a sigh of relief before pinching up again as the cycle continued. During her warm up, her mind carefully planned the perfect run that would circle the front yard, bringing her up by then fence, then down around the barn and finally back up by the house. Not exactly the Olympic track Michael Johnson would have chosen, but satisfactory for the stress relief that she needed at that particular moment in time. Her thoughts were running loose and she wanted to return them to the Alcatraz of her mind. Both legs felt ready for their work out as she shook them out, the laces flailing and thumping on the black and blue polyurethane shox columns. Her legs pumped up and down, grinding the dirt beneath her feet as she jogged in place. Then, as if a starting gunshot had pierced the air, she took off around the yard, pushing herself, slowly at first and then faster and faster. She circled two times before the tears of frustration started to fall. They carved dirt caked trenches down her face and neck and blinded her with their glistening salty sting. Then her nose began to run, causing her to sniffle and snuff as she gasped for breath around the obnoxious emotions. Pushing herself to run harder and faster, she made the next two laps in record time in her attempt to escape the tantalizing voices in her head. But the faster she ran, the louder they became. On her fifth lap, she began to feel weak and slowed down as she made her way up by the fence. With a surge of adrenaline, she forced herself to sprint for the barn, seeing nothing. She’d barely made it around when her foot caught on the roots of the grass and she fell like a giraffe, head over heels until she was nothing but a heap of dirt-caked human, a peachy-brown contrast to the Bermuda green grass.


Open up your mind to the stories within.
(Door to SECCA house in Winston Salem, NC)

A Practice in Perspective

I love looking at things from different points of view, which is probably why my students have multiple exercises each year dealing with point of view and perspective. I fully believe that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can often help solve even the most complex of problems.

Not that it always works–otherwise I’d have found the solution for how to achieve world peace–but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

One of my college writing classes had us do something with perspective that I’ve been playing with a little this week, mostly because I can. We wrote a story from one point of view with at least two characters and then we switched the point of view around so that we could explore characterization in depth. This was my original piece told from Veruna’s perspective:

“The exact moment that the fall of mankind’s dominance occurred remains a mystery to the modern world. The inconceivable phenomenon evolved slowly so that the change became almost natural and nigh undetectable as it slithered its way into existence. One fact and one fact alone remains clear: change has happened. Denial is still prevalent among the vast majority of the fallen race, but I, brilliant mastermind that I am, have artfully recorded my observations and submitted to the inevitable, knowing full well that our days of power have come to an end.


The deviant forms have come to every neighborhood and city, commanding our utmost attention and care. We have no choice but to submit to their demands and live as comfortably as possible within our cloistered confines.


My theory and definitive conclusion was born out of experience and experience’s name is Jennis.


For years I determined to study The Change as an observant outsider. My goal was to remain detached but I soon learned that it was an impossible task for as a human there is and was little I could do to resist The Change I studied. Jennis arrived to assume control of my daily living and pursue the growing domination of his species. He lords over me with reckless abandon and pursues the life of continual comfort. These creatures are far more advanced than humans who must first school themselves to acquire knowledge that is innate for ones so mighty.


Jennis understands the way the world works and has since birth, leaving massive amounts of time that are wasted on humans.


My personal research shows the new dominations require the ex-dominate species to follow certain rules or else co-existence is impossible and the stronger breed will be the survivor—“


“Veruna, what are you babbling about?” the voice interrupted my speech and I looked up in surprise.

I had been working on my speech for days. The scientific community had a right to know that my discoveries were for real. They needed to know that the end of the world was coming. They needed to know.


“Veruna?” she asked again. I looked over and saw Serena staring at me. Her green eyes had that clouded look in them like the atmosphere in the moments before a hurricane unleashes its powerful destruction. That look immediately told me she was concerned about something I’d done, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why she was looking at me like that.


I tried to clear my mind. What had we been talking about before? Perhaps if I just asked her…


“What’s wrong, Serena?”

I had definite ideas for where I wanted these characters to go and what I wanted this interaction to become. It was interesting to hear the theories of my class, which I kept in mind as I rewrote the piece from Serena’s point of view trying to be clearer about where I wanted to the story to go:

“The exact moment that the fall of mankind’s dominance occurred remains a mystery to the modern world. The inconceivable phenomenon evolved slowly so that the change became almost natural and nigh undetectable as it slithered its way into existence. One fact and one fact alone remains clear: change has happened. Denial is still prevalent among the vast majority of the fallen race, but I, brilliant mastermind that I am, have artfully recorded my observations and submitted to the inevitable, knowing full well that our days of power have come to an end.


My theory and definitive conclusion was born out of experience and experience’s name is Jennis.


For years I determined to study The Change as an observant outsider. My goal was to remain detached but I soon learned that it was an impossible task for as a human there is and was little I could do to resist The Change I studied. Jennis arrived to assume control of my daily living and pursue the growing domination of—“


“Veruna, what are you babbling about?” I interrupted my friend with the loving care that anyone might have in the situation. Veruna had been talking to herself for a while. That much I could tell. Or maybe she was talking to someone else. I couldn’t be sure. Everything with Veruna is a little unclear to me.

She looked up, but said nothing to me. The blank stare was a bit disconcerting so I tried her name again. Sometimes that worked. “Veruna?”


“Hmm?” the hum was deep and it went straight to my soul with its undertone reverberations of someone who wasn’t quite sure where she was or why she was doing something. Her bright sea green eyes were vitric, common signs when the mind had become as cryptic as hieroglyphics in the maze of pyramids in the Valley of the Kings.


“What are you doing in here?” I asked again. Redundancy dismantles walls.


“Practicing my speech,” she murmured. The wall was still intact, but she was responding.


“What speech, Veruna?”


I stepped over and around the clutter of books, old term papers, clothes from previous days’ outfits and mismatched shoes. It looked like what I imagined her mind resembled.


“My speech. For the convention next week. I’m revealing my findings about Jennis finally. I think it is time.”


I tried to think of something to say. Something that didn’t make it sound like I thought she was crazy, but I was coming up blank.

I realized that my characterization was much clearer the second go round as I shifted perspectives. The first selection was too cryptic. I thought that would be good, to keep the mystery alive, but my perception was colored by my own sense of where the story was headed and I was blinded by foreknowledge. By shifting the point of view, I made it clearer to my readers what was going on in the scene. Now, do I think this is the best scene I’ve written. No, not really. I think it’s still a little unclear and wordy. I invite your comments and criticism.

Who is Serena to you? Who is Veruna? What do these interactions tell you? And most importantly, do you agree with the idea that shifting perspective can be a useful tool to writing and life?