Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Editorial Tips From the Garage

I killed my first line today.  *sniff*

And I don't mean that like, Haaaayyy, girl. I'm killin' this line.
If only.

A beautiful first line, it sparkled with foreshadowing of my book's essential themes.  At least in my mind.  Problem was, it just didn't fit the scene.  Actually, I'm not sure it fit the voice of the book.  And I've tried so hard to make it work.  I really have.  And I've been in denial about it.  But finally, after receiving some expert advice (thanks Michael Mammay!), I've killed it.  In a very non-celebratory kind of way. 

Killing part of a manuscript is HARD.  Killing parts of our lives is, too. 

Sometimes life hands us cruel ironies.

While my book was off with beta readers recently, the hubby & I took advantage of both that and his break to sort through our stuff.  See, we moved back to California (from Iowa) almost two years ago, and stored A LOT of stuff in my grandparents' garage to get our Iowa house ready for showing.  Since then, that stuff has stayed there.

And stayed there.

My grandfather died last fall, and my grandmother moved out a few months ago.  The house has got to go soon, and so does our stuff.  With the clock ticking on us, we've dragged our feet, reluctant because we've known, due mostly to a lack of storage space currently, that most of the stuff would not belong to us anymore when we were done.

And in the midst of sorting and cleaning and breaking up with my stuff, I realized that I took a break from editing on paper (well, screen) only to edit with objects.  Aaaaaaaarrgh!!!!!

And they are BOTH hard in the SAME ways!  But it's so, so necessary to kill things that are no longer useful or meaningful.  (Not people.  Don't go killing people.)

With that in mind, here are some very basic manuscript editing tips brought to you straight from an overstuffed garage: 

(1) Set it down.  You've heard it before.  Take a break, and your ms will read differently when you've got fresh eyes.  Just like, if you have your stuff in storage for two years and you come back to it, you find that a lot of it just makes you say, "Why did I keep that?"  And you'll dump the broken cassette tapes and crumpled high school history papers.

(2) Read it out loud.  Another truism, that I scoffed at at first.  Then I started reading my ms out loud to my daughter, and realized a whole bunch of things that were still wrong with it.  In the garage, this is where you say out loud, "I own a coat whose buttons I have safely tucked into the pocket one by one as they've fallen off so I can sew them back on someday."  When you realize what you're saying, you'll then say: "Self, you're a deluded idiot.  You've got the sewing skills of an antelope, and you've already replaced the coat anyway.  Huck it."  Reading aloud makes you face uncomfortable truths like that.

(3) Use a tool.  Or more than one.  A friend recommended Rayne Hall's The Word-Loss Diet to me, and it's already changing the way I write.  Every fledgling writer should use this book.  It's short; it's followed its own advice.  And it holds your hand as you get rid of the extra words we all put into our rough drafts: "said," "look," "smile," "turn," "see," etc.  In the garage, our tool was a system.  We'd screen each item:  Is there need for this item in my life now?  Does it have strong sentimental value?  Does it have all its working parts?  Is it free of rat pee?  Was it in a box that's been sealed?  You get my meaning. 

(4) Get feedback.  This one's a must.  Not convinced?  Okay, who do you hope is going to read your book?  If it's just you, then you're right, you don't need anybody else.  Otherwise, you've got to have true, fresh eyes on it.  Meet people on Twitter, take a writing class, join a writers' group.  Pay an editor (for content, not just style, if they're you're only reader--though I wouldn't advise that, either).  I'm still working on this one, too.  And I don't think that ever stops.  But honesty to your face is priceless.  Find someone (better yet--multiple someones!) to read it and tell you what they really think.  In the garage, get your spouse to tell you that the shoes you love have been worn into nothing and it's time for them to go. 

(5) Keep a (small) graveyard.  Two things in the garage were too hard for me to get rid of.  I'll likely never use either one again.  But I kept them.  First item: my 3-inch-thick folder of college coursework from Syntax I.  It's a trophy.  That class was the bootcamp of my major, and I'm still proud to have made it through the grueling quarter that I took it.  Second item: the bag of cloth diapers.  *sigh* Both of our kids are out of diapers, and we're 99% sure we're done having kids.  Nobody I know wants them.  But they were expensive (they're the fancy, modern kind), and represent hours of hard work.  And I'm so proud that I diapered my kids in cloth, at least for some of their babyhoods.  So the folder and the diapers, completely against common sense, stay.  With my manuscript, when I have to delete lines or sections I love, I keep them in a separate file.  Then I can still check on them and be proud of them. 

And so, with all of that in mind, my first line will join the graveyard...

The Mars International Research Dome was both sanctuary and prison for almost everyone Tian had ever known. 

There.  Now I can still visit it. 

What kinds of things have been hard for you to get rid of in your manuscripts?


  1. Oh, girl, we can talk about this one for days. I keep a file entitled "Odds & Ends" that I'd like to believe I'll revisit for use elsewhere. You are now making me open that file. In addition to WHOLE CHAPTERS, this file contains a number of lines I love. Here's one: "Serra set out to do what she had been doing every day since they'd left Callyn: channeling Vesperi's rage to save them all."

  2. Nice! It DOES cut down on the sting to be able to visit, doesn't it? :)