Let’s Stop Writing Lazy

Yesterday, I posted about how I’d finished Round One of editing (wooh!). The kicker is, I went through the last forty pages in a single day. I was on a roll. And hey, they day wasn’t even over yet! Why not go right to Round Two? I picked up my manuscript, booted up the computer, and got ready to start recording my corrections from the beginning.

And I was immediately confronted with that sentence. That parenthetical, periodical travesty that had made it this far because I couldn’t figure out how to de-convolute it without ruining some, or all, of its effect. Maybe, later on in the book, I could have let it slide…. but it’s in the first paragraph. The first paragraph of an indie novel. I don’t know about you, but I make decisions on self-published books based on that first paragraph. If the author can’t convince me in that space of time that they have a competent control of the english language, I’m out.

So this is where I realized what I’m really up against in Round Two. I’m up against all the things that can’t be solved quickly, and without considerable thought. I hadn’t rewritten the sentence with my red pen; I had only written “still not sure.” Nope, not sure at all. Last night, I closed my computer and slunk off to bed. I thought of that sentence while starting my day this morning, and mulled it over. I asked myself questions like, “What am I trying to achieve with this sentence? Is it more important for it to be periodical, or lyrical? What is another way to convey this information?” Then when I got back to the computer, I finally did the work. I tried out several different things, and crafted a new sentence that has the dramatic effect I want (I hope) without sacrificing prose and readability. I’ve probably spent over an hour on that single sentence—and this is how every little thing is going to be from here on out.

Here’s another example. After she’d read most of the prototype, Lady Higg told me, “Nathaniel sighs a lot.” I said, “Huh, I guess he does.” It’s not really a problem, and it sort of makes sense with his character, and how he’s feeling in the first few pages. To be safe, though, I counted the sighs in red ink. Today, when I realized the “Nathaniel sighed” I’d marked as number one was actually his second sigh in four pages, I had to look a little closer. The line was, “Nathaniel sighed inwardly.” Well, what does that really mean? What is the feeling I’m trying to convey here? Again, I tried a few different things, and finally arrived on, “Nathaniel suppressed a desire to beat his head against the steering wheel.”  I think this provides a much more concrete image, is much more interesting, and conveys more of his frustration and melancholy than the previous, lazy line where he sighs yet again.

One more story. Back in April, as graduation and the Senior Show loomed closer, I had to write a Personal Statement to display next to the Wanderlust prototype and illustrations that made up my portion of the Senior Exhibition. The statement had to be approved by my advisor. When I went to see him, I was all like, “BAM, I work at the Writing Center, yo, how’s that for an artist statement?!” Okay, I wasn’t actually like that at all, but the point is I’d seen how bad Artist Statements can get, and I was feeling a little complacent about mine. My advisor said, “Okay. But when you say this, what do you mean? Can you find a way to actually describe that? Can you be more specific?” I may have gone away grumbling, but I knew he was right. It was the same thing I would have asked from anyone at the Writing Center, even though it’s so hard to be specific when you write about abstract things. I worked on my statement, I found a way to say what I meant, I got more specific, and I sent it back to him. He said, “Not bad,” and asked for more. We went back and forth several times after that, and the end result was an artist statement that was so much better than my complacent, and lazy, first effort.

This story’s connection to my current endeavor is pretty clear. In editing Wanderlust, now is the time to demand more from myself, and stop settling for complacency. It’s time to mull things over, to spend a day on a single sentence if necessary, and to stop writing lazy when, with a little work, I have so much more to give.

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Yesterday and todays’ rapid-fire posts have been all about the nitty-gritty of the writing process. I’ll try to mix it up later this week, but tell me: Are you interested in hearing more about harps and Celtic mythology? Should I post more art? How about book reviews? Would you like to see more nittygritty writing posts in the future?

Editing: Round One Complete

I did it! I read through all 138 pages of my printed manuscript, 52,968 words, and absolutely destroyed them with a red pen. It looks a little like this:

Now, I can begin Round Two, where I’ll integrate all those comments into the computer file. In some places, I’ve actually written out all the changes needed in a scene, and it will be a simple matter of transcribing those notes onto the computer in their proper place. In other places, though, I’ve circled things and squiggled lines and written notes like, “Sloppy!” “Fix this!” and “Clarify!” In these places, Editing Round Two will be a much more involved process, where I’ll have to actually go in and fix all those things. I do plan to fix as much as I can this next time around, and I plan to keep a comprehensive list of anything I skip over. I anticipate that Round Three will entail forcing myself to tackle everything on that list, and then maybe—maybe—I’ll be ready to turn the manuscript over to some outside parties for further advice.

Wanna know what three things I found myself writing in the margins the most during Round One? Here you go:

More DRAMA! This is for moments where something goes down that is fairly important to the story, but, rather than showcasing the event or detail, my prose glosses over it too quickly. One doesn’t want one’s novel to be over-dramatic, of course, but you still want to draw attention to the right things, and use exciting prose to do so.

More Space! Leftenant Weatherby told me the story felt a bit rushed back in May, and I wasn’t certain I believed him; it’s a YA novel, after all. Fast-paced is good! Reading through this time, however, I think I knew what he meant. In my writing, I have a tendency to move on to the next thing without a proper lead-in or introduction, making the action feel stilted and too soon. “More space” means I need to take more physical space on the page to get there, and use description or character interaction to create a more believable illusion of the passage of time.

Tighten! This means the prose is sloppy. It’s mostly good, it mostly says the right things, it’s mostly doing what it needs to, but it needs to be gone over with a fine-toothed comb and tightened up until it sounds professional, and until it shines.

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Thank you, readers, for sticking with me this far. I’m really excited for the next part of the process, and I hope you’ll read along to see how it goes. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Wanderlust Facebook Page if you haven’t already. I’ve started to post a few extras over there that might not necessarily show up on the blog.

When you’re editing your work, what three things do you have to tell yourself the most?

-G