Writing is mountain climbing. Half of it is uphill.
Yesterday I spent all day writing a scene that occurs in the relationship of a main character, Billy Ninefingers, with the woman he loves. It’s a pivotal scene, and the way I first wrote it, she makes a decision that hurts Billy, but he goes along with it because he doesn’t know what else to do.
It didn’t read right to me.
So I rewrote it, making him angry, making him push to have his needs met in the situation. I was still not happy with it, so I trashed the new scene.
What I did yesterday was waste 11 hours writing 3624 words, which I then threw away.
Today I’m going to rearrange the living room instead.
Some days you’re writing and the prose flows like fine wine into a crystal glass, gorgeous, smooth; a delight to senses.
Other days your writing takes you deep into the bug infested jungles of Look-There’s-A-Squirrel Valley and the divergent paths you find yourself on are downright frightening.
Where does my mind come up with some of the crazy things that pop up in my work? I don’t know, but some days writing is as much about hacking through the brush trying to find your way back home as it is basking in the glory of a completed chapter.
The bright spots on my horizon are the two women who’ve dedicated a great amount of time to making my work readable, Carlie Cullen and Irene Roth Luvaul.
Irene is what some people in this industry are beginning to refer to as a ‘line editor.’ She helps me make my manuscript submission ready – that is, she makes sure I’ve dotted my ‘i’s and crossed my ‘t’s (insert comma) (delete comma) and that the manuscript is as clean as it can be before I submit it to my editor, Carlie Cullen. Irene checks the manuscript for consistency in spelling the frequently made-up names of people and places, so that my spelling doesn’t inadvertently drift (Liam…Lyam….) Some authors have spouses who will do this for them, but my husband doesn’t read fast enough and has a day-time job. Fortunately my best friend Irene saw I was struggling, and offered to help. This is the first stage of the process, and clears the way for Carlie to work her magic.
Irene is a retired legal secretary with 40 years of proofreading and punctuation behind her. That she WANTS to do this mammoth undertaking on my raw, bloody manuscripts is amazing to me. I’m not as well-educated as many other authors are, and my first drafts are clear evidence of that.
By having the brush cut back (so to speak) before she gets the manuscript Carlie is able to concentrate on the true task of editing the work for publication. I’m not wasting Carlie’s time on things that should have been corrected before she was handed the manuscript. After all, she has other clients and also her own writing. I want her to enjoy working with me, not dread it!
Of course, she will make edits on grammar and things Irene and I may have missed, but Carlie guides me in cutting out the fluff and excessive backstory that finds its way into the tale. She has me expand on the important things, the points of the tale which are the real meat of the matter. She may have me take a minor thing and expand on it, or she may think something is not as important as I think it is. This is where the real story begins to unfold. Carlie turns my manuscript into a book.
If you have been suffering from a series of rejection letters and you don’t know why, it may be that your manuscript was not submission ready when you sent it in. You may not even have known your pride and joy was an unruly child. Many editors and agents will reject manuscripts with plots based on wonderful concepts and with great characters simply because the task of getting the grammar and punctuation corrected in order to get to the real editing is not worth the effort.
But after having been in this business for a while now, I’ve come to realize that it takes more than a great story to make a great book. I’ve seen manuscripts a third grader would not have been proud of, but they were the blood sweat and tears of an author and it killed me to tell them it wasn’t acceptable in its current state.
I’ve had other authors look at me with disdain and say, “Well I always refer back to Strunk and White when I am writing, so I don’t need an editor.”
Well, so do I, when I pause long enough to think about it, but I write like a freight train–once the tale has me and I’m rolling, I’m not going to stop for anything so minor as grammar.
Strunk and White IS the final word when it comes to grammar and use, but unless those two lovely men have actually laid their eyes on your manuscript, you may have missed a few things or you may have a tale that, while it is grammatically perfect, it is full of dead ends and lackluster prose.
Having been through hell and back with “The Last Good Knight” I cannot express strongly enough the importance of having TWO sets of editorial eyes on your work.
Editors have eyes AND they have Strunk and White, and they are not afraid to use it. But editors also understand what makes a good tale and they will guide you in that direction if you will let them.