Tag Archives | rewriting

Cutting the Fat

So, my novel manuscript, the one I’m almost done rewriting, originally came in at over 107,000 words.

I know.      spaghetti_fusilli_pasta_242129_l

Waaaaaay too long.

“But part of it is recipes,” I told myself.

Right. Like maybe 500 words.

Under orders from my agent, I’m in the process of cutting it to under 100K. (I’m currently at 99,378, with about 100 pages yet to comb through, so not bad.) I’ve realized as I do this, a couple of things: 1. that trimming the fat is making it a much better book, and 2. that this is a very inexact process.

All that being said, here are some ideas about how to approach cutting your precious words back:

Keep the noodles on the stove.  My characters love to noodle. To ponder. To think deep thoughts about life. And I, in my efforts to make sure the reader gets it, often have them noodle about the same issue. Over and over and over again. Noodling is one of the easiest things to cut. (A brief aside. I was cooking Mac and Cheese for my three-year-old granddaughter the other day and mentioned that the noodles were on the stove.  “What’s a noodle, Nonni?” she asked. Because only people of a certain age call it anything but pasta. Duh.)

Cut entire scenes or chapters.  This is far and away the most painful thing to do. And the most effective–in my case, I ditched several thousand words in one quick swoop.  It was a chapter I’d added in to supposedly give the reader more insight into a particular character, but much of it was fluff. So I held my breath and slashed it. (Though nothing is ever deleted forever. See my procedural notes below.)

Ditch telling and then showing.  I see this often in my client’s manuscripts.  First they tell us something, then show it.  I thought I was good at not doing this. But hahaha, turns out that’s not only the case. Since my characters love to noodle, they often sometimes think about doing something, then say it in dialogue, and then…gasp…they actually do it.  Thus I am repeating the same thing three times. A good rule of thumb in such situations: dialogue or action is always stronger than thoughts.

Edit out sentences that say the same thing in different ways.  Similar to the above, in my efforts to hit my reader over the head with my brilliance, I say it on way. And then another. And then…oh wait, just in case, let’s try yet another way! Away with all of these repetitious bits.

Keep the momentum moving forward.  It’s easy to unintentionally stall the action.  Here’s an example. My main character, Madeleine, is at a party.  She goes outside to deal with one of the party-goers and then thinks, “Suddenly the prospect of returning to the party wasn’t so appealing.” But I’ve still got a bunch of things that have to happen at the party. Yet she’s letting all the air out by saying that. This also happens when writers build up to a scene, say an argument between husband and wife, and then don’t end the scene without writing the argument.

If something is niggling at you, pay attention to it.  Sometimes it happens that a little thought comes into your head along the lines of you should go back to chapter 14 and look at what Richard says. But you ignore it. Because, you’re way beyond chapter 14 and who wants go go back? But that thought keeps niggling at you. Pay attention. This happened to me earlier today and after I dragged my metaphorical feet long and hard, I finally went back–and rewrote a chunk of the chapter. It’s much stronger now.

That’s it for the actual wordsmithing.  But below find a couple of procedural tips:

Keep a hold file.  This is an extra file in which I copy and paste the gems I’m cutting.  I’ve done this for years, so that I’m certain to hang onto my brilliance. However, I learned a better way to make sure I don’t panic when I highlight vast swaths of copy and hit delete. And that is:

Save a new file every day.  I do this by date: BCRewriteFour8.25.16. And so on, through all the days I’m working on it.  Then you know you can always go back to what you wrote the day before and your brain won’t tell you that you can’t delete those delicately beautiful words because the world will suffer if you do. (I learned this tip from Rachael Herron.)

What are you working on? Doing any rewriting? Got any tips to share? Please do!

(Photo by brokenarts.)

2

Dog Days of Summer and Rewriting

wasp_macro_wasp_243277_lI’m back. It didn’t seem like much of a hiatus, at least from this end. And I’m still not finished with the rewrite. But I’m making excellent progress and feel very good about it.  (And, so you don’t think I’m all fakey optimistic, let me just remind you that I sat out most of July working on it because I didn’t know how to approach it.)

I have a couple of brilliant thoughts on rewriting to share, but first, let me tell you a few fun things that happened while I was gone:

  • I got a bee sting while valiantly defending my three-year-old granddaughter from said bee. Her mother is allergic, and we’re not yet sure if Liv is. She’s been stung once, but often the allergic reaction doesn’t occur until the second or third sting. I sure didn’t want to be responsible for anything happening, so I was glad the bee stung me. But it turns out I’m having a fairly intense localized reaction, with my arm red and swollen to about the size of an elephant’s leg. And it itches like a mo-fo.
  • I have a dying root in a tooth. If you’ve never experienced this, it is hard to explain the agony.  And I thought being pummeled by my massage therapist was bad. Also, a helpful note: do not get a toothache in August because every dentist in town is on vacation.  I’m in between dentists because I needed to find a holistic one, aka, one who will not fill my mouth full of mercury. I already have plenty, thank  you very much, and I just went on a nasty three-month cleanse to get rid of it.  Anyway, I have an appointment two weeks hence. Meanwhile, I’m swishing with coconut oil and Listerine and salt water, and using clove oil and Orajel. Also taking lots of ibuprofen, which I know is terrible for me but c’mon, this pain is intense.

Aren’t I a fun date?

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that over with, on to the gems of wisdom about rewriting. Here goes:

  • Every book is its own beast.  You have to honor the shape of what you have, you really do, and listen to how the book responds as you work. Some planned changes just may not work when you actually get to it. For instance, I figured out this elaborate backstory for one of the characters that was just perfect. I planned to fit it in in dribs and drabs. But when I actually got to places it might go, it didn’t fit.  So I had to let it go.
  • Rewriting happens in macro swaths, such as rethinking a character, but the meat of it is in the micro. How a character reacts to the character you’ve rethought, for instance, which you show in dialogue or action.  I’m struck this time through what makers of magic we are–erase one observation from a character’s head and you’ve changed the whole scene. Amazing. Which reminds me of something that used to happen all the time when I was in a writer’s group. I’d bring in a rewrite and people would wax poetic about how much better it was–when really all I’d done was change one or two tiny little things. But that’s the power we wield.
  • It really helps to have someone you can hash out ideas with. I was truthfully sort of scared of my agent at first, but this time through we’ve talked a couple times and emailed about what I’m doing. Also, when Debbie and I went on our writing retreat, we discussed our stories on breaks and at night. It really helps.  Find someone with whom you can brainstorm–or just moan and whine to.

Okay, that’s it, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’m going to go take some more Ibuprofen and ice my elephant’s leg arm. But, I’ve missed you. So please tell me what you’ve been doing this summer and how the writing is going.

Photo by hberends.

4

Dire Straits: No Internet for a Week

Yes, you read that headline correctly. I was without internet for a week. One whole freaking week. Of course, as luck would have it, I was out of town for part of that time, but still. Come on.

It started when a car ran into a pole a few blocks away. Sheared the damn thing off, so that the top part of it was dangling from the electrical wire.  Power went out to our entire neighborhood early Friday morning.  Let me tell you, it was downright creepy to awaken before dawn that day and realize there was no fan running, no clock, no glowing lights from the power strip. And most of all–no sound from outside. Nothing. You don’t realize how much noise all our things make until they all go away. I had the oddest feeling that the electrical grid of the whole country had been taken out. But luckily, it was just my zip code. And the power came back on within a couple of hours.

All except the internet.

I can live without the TV, and the landline (which is disconnected anyway). But internet? No way.

Okay, okay, okay.  So I do have a smart phone.  It’s not as if I was totally disconnected from the world. But I am old of a certain age and it turns out I’m lousy at managing my life and my clients and my business from my phone. Really lousy.  Careful as I am to scroll through all my emails, I still miss some. And there’s no way to send attachments from the phone.

I know. Whine, whine, whine.

Anyway, I called Comcast (sorry, I just can’t get used to calling them Xfinity) and scheduled an appointment for the next Wednesday, when I would be back home. So much for all those TV ads I saw while watching The Voice. You know, the ones about how Comcast now schedules evening appointments, when it is convenient for their customers. Ha! Nope, they couldn’t come when hub was home in the evenings. The earliest appointment that I would be home for was quite a few days hence.

I went to the beach for a few days and my husband came home early. Bless his heart, because he was able to download messages (hello, data usage), he thought the internet was back up and so I canceled the appointment.  But, no.  The internet was not back up. It didn’t work at all. Another call to Comcast, and another appointment a few days out.

But! There was hope! Turns out we had an “end-of-life” modem (I swear to you it was only two years old) that had refused to come back on with the rest of its brothers and sisters.  And all we had to do was dash up to the Comcast service center, four minutes away, and get a new one.  At said service center we were assured that all we had to do was plug it in and everything would work again. (Oh, and routers are no longer needed–cool!)

But…you guessed. We plugged it in and everything worked except the internet. Sigh. So I waited until yesterday when the nice cable guy, Ben, came over and hung out and fixed all my things. He even moved my new, improved start-of-life modem/router away from the bedroom where I’m sure it was emitting all kinds of foul vibes while we slept.

So now I have the interwebs again.

Yes, I know this should have been a lovely amount of extra time to work on my rewrite. And it was. Except I still had clients who were expecting responses from me. And emails to answer. And blog posts to write. And dealing with a tech fail takes time, people! But really, I’m whining on the yacht, because: smart phone.

But I thought you might want to know why I’ve not been blogging.  And….I would also like to let you know that after this tale of woe I’m going to need to take to my couch and read for awhile. No, actually, I’ve got to hunker down and get the rewrite finished.

And so I’m taking a brief blogging hiatus.  I’ll be back the week of the 15th.  However, I do send out a newsletter every other week, so if you’re not on my list, sign up over there on the right so you can get it.  I used to do a whole formal ezine thing but lately I’ve just been writing what I call love letters on various writerly topics.  I don’t post them on the blog, so the content is completely different. It comes out Sunday (next one will be August 14th).

Okay? Okay.

Oh, by the way, the France retreat is now full. Woot woot! But we’ll be going again next year, so if you’re interested, do let me know.  Debbie and I are working on a new website for Let’s Go Write and once that is done we’re going to get very official about a mailing list and actually send information out on it, too!

So now I’m going to go work on my rewrite. Actually, I’m going to go have a glass of wine and sit outside and talk to my husband.  Yes, I’m still speaking to him, even though he told me to cancel the first Comcast appointment. I’m not bitter. No, not me.

See you on the 15th.

4

Five on Friday: Done!

There’s a lot going on, so let’s get right to it.

yarn_handicraft_crocheting_262893_lWhat I’m Happy About: I finished the rewrite! Woot! I submitted it to my agent and she will soon submit it to an editor who is interested. Think good thoughts for me, please.

What I’m Reading: A little of this, a little of that. I read about one-third of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan.  I’m fascinated with the surfing life, but a little of this one went a long ways.  Finnegan has a lyrical bent to him, and he can write about waves and the ocean in a gazillion different styles. But I couldn’t get over the sense that the story wasn’t going anywhere so I gave up.  I read All The Things We Never Knew, by Sheila Hamilton, about the mental illness and eventual suicide of her first husband.  I listen to her on the radio, and knew her slightly many years ago, so it was great to read her book, which I found quite riveting.

And finally, my bathroom and kitchen books (you know, those tomes you pick up when you have a spare moment) are The Yarn Whisperer: My Unexpected Life in Knitting by Clara Parkes, and Knitting Pearls: Writers Writing About Knitting, by Ann Hood. Both are essay-type books so they are easy to pick up and put down. Sort of like knitting.

What I’m Watching: My daughter has introduced me to the wonders of Fixer Upper.  Chip and Joanna Gaines–too much fun.

What I’m Doing This Weekend: Teaching the Ins and Outs of Publishing at Another Read Through. Its 9 to 5 tomorrow and we’ve got room for a couple more if you happen to be in PDX and want an overview of publishing, from the legacies to the indies.

What My New Guilty Pleasure is: The smoked butterscotch latte from Starbucks. Don’t puncture my happy balloon by pointing out how bad it is for me.

Photo by ukapala.

4

It’s About Damn Time She Wrote a Post

Hi. Bear_waving_bear_252005_l

Here I am again.  

I've been pretty much missing in action, with the exception of a prompt round-up post or two, and one measly blog post, for the last couple of weeks. (And, now that I'm here, I've just had an idea for another post–which proves my oft-repeated point that writing breeds more writing. Alas, I don't have time to complete it at the moment.  But it shall appear soon.)

But I'm nearing completion of my rewrite of the Bonne Chance Bakery, my next novel, so I thought I'd pop in.  I'm learning all kinds of things as I rewrite this novel.  And that is why I love writing so much, because there is always something new to learn.  

Have I ever told you my favorite story about this?  Well, if so, sorry, but you're going to hear it again.  

I was at dinner with the parents of a friend of my daughter.  They were lovely people, and both had retired from high-powered corporate jobs.  Fly all over the world, big responsibility type jobs.  The mom asked me what I did and at that time I was in the middle of earning my MFA, so I explained. And then this happened:

"And how long is the MFA program?" she asked.

"Two years."

"Oh." Startled look.  "I would have thought you could learn everything about writing in six months."

Yes, she really said that, people.  And for once in my life I had the perfect retort, which still pleases me to this day:

"Some people think it takes a lifetime to master the craft of writing."

Boo-yah!

So, anyway, I'm learning lots.  Which is a wonderful thing that I'm sure I'll write blog posts about. But not yet.  In the meantime, however, a few things I need to give you a heads up about:

I have another free book on Noise Trade!  It's called, Set The Words Free, and it is all about smashing writer's block.  It's available in all the usual formats, but since it is a workbook, I think downloading it in a PDF is the best, because then you can print it out.  You can download it here.

Next week, my publisher is participating in the 4th Anniversary party of the Romance Reviews website, and on March 20, you can enter to win a copy of Emma Jean!  I will remind you next week, as I should be back in action by then, since my rewrite deadline is this Friday, March 13. Urp.  I better get back to it.

But before I do, one more thing to put on your calendar.

MacaronsNEXT FRIDAY, MARCH 20, IS MACARON DAY!! (The subject of the Bonne Chance Bakery is macarons, or more to the point, a woman who bakes them.) In Paris, New York, Portland, and many other cities, you can go to participating bakeries, donate money to a charity (here it is the Meals on Wheels), and get free macarons!

That's all for now.  What's going on with you?  How is your writing?

Bear photo by omster-com.

Macaron photo by Oregon Live.

6

A Compendium of Writing Tips and Tricks

Note_creative_author_260972_lAs I've announced at least fifty million times in every place I could possibly think of, I'm busy rewriting my novel for my new agent, Erin Niumata, which is why things have been quiet around here.

But as I've been concentrating fiercely on my rewrite the last couple of weeks, I've realized some things that are working well for me–and things that I'm learning.   I'm hopeful these miscellaneous tips will be of value to you, too, so here they are.

1.  Getting up every 30 minutes (or so) makes a HUGE DIFFERENCE.  I've been at my desk a lot lately, for longer stretches than usual, and I've been consciously getting up regularly and walking around and stretching.  One day last week I didn't do this–and I felt completely difference at the end of the day. The romantic image we have of writers requires us to be so wrapped up in our work that we sit for hours.  But actually you will feel better and do better work if you get your butt up off the chair.

2.  Your main character needs an origin story.  Just as superheroes have stories about how they got their superpowers, your protagonist (and probably others in the story, too) needs an origin story.  How did she get her obsession for fashion?  Why did he become a detective?  Did he watch his best friend get killed and vow to avenge him?  Figure this out and you've unlocked your character. This deserves a whole post and will get one when I'm done with my rewrite.

3.  Use more description than you think you need.  I mentioned about how I've been learning this as I rewrite to my agent's notes.  And I am finding that more description makes for a fuller, richer read. (Bear in mind that I'm writing women's fiction, and lush description is a huge part of it.  In another genre, this might not be so.)  Also, as my buddy J.D. Frost brilliantly pointed out to me in an email, you can use description to pace your plot.  A lot of it signals a restful spot.  A lack of it shows action.  

4.  Having long stretches of time to write is a wonderful thing.  I'm the original proponent of using little bits of time here and there to write when you can, but for this rewrite, I've gotten in the habit of clearing away whole days to work.  (See #5.)  Let me tell you, it is fantastic, especially when you are working on a rewrite and need to hold the whole book in your head.  Having more than one or two hours at a time to devote to the book gives me the mental space to dig deep into character arcs and figure out a more cohesive plot.

5.  You have more time to write than you think.  I have a lot of clients at the moment.  They are all wonderful and diligent and doing good work, and I adore every single one.  (I really, truly do–I am constantly amazed and honored to be chosen to shepherd a writer's creation.) And, they all need my care and tending: reading their work and then time on the phone to discuss.  I'm also planning three in-person workshops (France here, Nashville here, Portland is already full).  And I have a clamoring family that I love to let distract me.  Yet I've carved out four full days to devote to my rewrite in the last week.  I never would have thought I could do that I've you'd told me so in January.  But I did it, by working really, really hard on the other days and carefully managing appointments.  It is working so well, I'm going to continue to do this even after I'm done with this rewrite.

6.  Notes are your pals.  I had pretty much totally gone over to Evernote, which I do love, because I tend to accumulate scraps of paper with notes on them all over my desk.  But that's gone out the window with this rewrite and I've got lists and notebooks everywhere.  The thing is, this is working for me (it wasn't before, which is why I sought out a different system). When I'm working on chapter six, and I get an idea for chapter ten, it is easier to grab a piece of paper and scrawl my idea on it, then to open the Evernote app and create a new note.  The thing to remember is to go through your notes regularly!  And the point of it all is to do what works for you to get the writing done.

7.  Reading is your BFF now more than ever.  I'm reading a ton at the moment.  What am I reading? Women's fiction, exactly what I'm writing, with a stray girly mystery thrown in.  As I read, I learn.  In the novel I just finished, I noticed how the author handled description of characters and emulated it.  In another novel I just started, I liked how the author wrote about the setting.  All these ideas go directly into my work.  (And yes, I will write a post like this one about the books I'm reading soon.)

So that's what I've learned while writing lately.  How about you? What are you working on? How is it going?

12

Gone Rewriting

I am working on a rewrite of my novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery.  And, of course, the exciting news is that this rewrite is not just for me.  Nope, I am rewriting to the notes from the agent with whom I just signed, Erin Niumata, and one of her readers.  

This is all happening fast.  As in, a month ago I hadn't even submitted a query on this novel.  And now I have an agent for it and am working on a rewrite.  This process is interesting, and to all my students and clients, current and former, I say, yes you really do need to expand those descriptions and details! That is one thing I'm seeing repeatedly–a request for more details and description of my characters.  It cracks me up, because I'm constantly saying this to clients–more, more, more!  

Anyway, I have a deadline coming right up to finish this rewrite (which is an excellent thing, as I am very deadline-oriented).  But with my current load of clients, my students at MTSU, and my clamoring family, that means time is at a premium the next couple of weeks.  I've already emailed people and postponed lunches and coffees and non-essential meetings.  

The next thing to fall is going to be blog posts.  You know I can't ignore you for long, and I won't.  I will post at least once a week, but until mid-March that will likely be it.  I know you will understand and forgive me.

In the meantime, there's over 1,000 posts on this site, so you can start at the beginning, nearly eight years ago and read up to the current day.  I'm kidding.  However, there is a topic cloud in the right sidebar and if you click on some of those subjects, you'll find reading material tailored to your interests.

And let me just remind you of three upcoming workshops:

In Portland, How to Write A Book, on March 21 (mercifully after my deadline).  I think we only have a couple of spots left, so let me know if you are interested!

In Nashville, May 1 and 2nd, From Spark to Story.

In Collioure, France, Secrets of Structure, September 5-12.  There is only one spot left here, so let me know if you want to come.  It is going to be a blast!

Oh, and rumor has it there may be an online workshop coming up one of these days soon, so stay tuned!  And happy writing!

16

Rewriting: The Middle Way

Table_269134_lThis is a short-ish post, seeing as how it is two days before Thanksgiving, when I host a dozen family members here for dinner, and the lovely Olivia (19 months) is spending the day with me, and the house needs a lot tad bit of cleaning and, oh right, I do have to figure out a few recipes.

I'm deep into rewriting my next novel, and all I can think about writing-wise is related to rewriting, which is kind of an individual thing.  So I've had a hard time coming up with ideas for writing posts lately, which you know is unusual seeing as how we're coming up on eight years of blogging and over 1,000 posts.  Craziness.

But, upon further reflection, I did realize I had something of minor brilliance to say.  It may even be major brilliance–it all depends on if it resonates with you or not.  Here's the story:

The other morning, 5:30 ish* and I'm working on my rewrite.  I come to a part I'd dreaded, because it involved the way one of my main characters, Jack,  reacted to a situation.  Readers commented they didn't believe his reaction, given his actions earlier. 

What's the obvious fix here?  Why, give him the opposite reaction, of course.  Which is what I had figured I'd do in all my rewrite planning.  But as I started making the fix, it didn't work for me.  Didn't feel right.  Didn't seem like something Jack would do. 

So I got up from the computer (actually I sat there frustrated for a few minutes) and took a shower. And the answer came: Jack doesn't have to have a different reaction, he just has to have his current reaction challenged by the other characters and thus explain his reaction.

In other words, what I needed to do was make it work on the page.  

This, my friends, was following the middle way.  It's the sometimes circuitous path between two black and white option, and it comes to us not just in writing but in life.  You look and look and look at an obstacle and can only see it as something barring your journey.  But then, suddenly you realize you can just go around the damn thing–and get back on your road.

And so that is what I did.  Jack is happy.  And so am I.

I had a counselor once who called this grace.  And that's what it feels like, doesn't it?

Have you had moments of grace in your writing or life recently?

*I've used "ish" twice in this post.  Last week, I was having lunch with a childhood friend (we grew up around the corner from each other) and we agreed that both of us had the same laidback attitude toward life, which she attributed to being the baby of the family.  She said–and I love this–that her favorite word is "ish."  As in,  soon-ish.  Or later-ish.  You get the picture.  Thus, the preponderance of the word "ish" in this post.

Photo by monmart.

4

The (Sometimes) Joy of Rewriting

Just in time for Mercury Retrograde, I am launching into the first big rewrite of my novel.  (More on Mercury Retrograde in a moment.)

The background        

GreendoorPezenas

A green door in Pezenas, France. It's a doorway to rewriting, get it?

I started this particular novel last year in late September, and finished it almost a year later, on the last day of August.  By many standards, including mine, that is a slow pace for a first draft.  But there were entire months when I set it aside to work on other projects, so the entire time span of active writing was probably was more like eight months than twelve.

I got the idea for this novel in the shower one day in one of those Eureka moments.  When I started writing, in first person, the voice of the narrator came easily and naturally, much as what happened with my Emma Jean novel.  I love when this happens–you don't have to struggle with voice, it is just there. 

My writing group has been enthusiastic about the story, and responses from people who've read the first 50 pages of it in a MFA alumni writing workshop have been also.  And I already have a ton of ideas of scenes I need to add and ways to deepen certain characters. So, I'm excited to get on with the second draft.

The plan

Thus, I was even more excited when my wonderful client and friend Beverly pointed me towards this page on Rachael Herron's blog.  It presents a coherent, cohesive plan for rewriting.  And, I don't know about you, but in my writing life, coherent, cohesive plans for rewriting have been in short supply, witness this story from my MFA days:

I had finished the first draft of the book I lovingly call my MFA novel (It now resides in a cupboard and will likely never see the light of day) and was ready to rewrite it.  So I asked my MFA mentor, an accomplished novelist, writing teacher, and world traveler (who shall remain nameless only because what follows might sound like I'm dissing her and I don't want anybody to think that because she was amazing) how to go about it.  

"I'll tell you how to do that," she said, tossing her long, thick, red hair.

I leaned forward, excited for more of her words of wisdom.

"You sit in your favorite easy chair and read your novel as if you're reading a book from the bookstore."

I waited.  Then I waited some more.  Being too in awe of her to squawk, "that's it?" I waited longer.  

Finally she broke the painful silence.  "Then you will find a way in."  And she bestowed a smile on me.

So, um, you can see why I'm thrilled that plans for rewriting the novel exist.  And, lord have mercy, said plans involve buying office supplies, like post-it notes! A three-ring binder! 3-hole punched paper! Washi tape!  (Okay, the washi tape wasn't strictly necessary, but how could I resist it?)  I'm in the process of printing out my novel and have already begun following the first part of the plan.

Oh, and today, in my internet travels, I ran across this post from the always helpful Janice Hardy about rewriting.  It's worth a read, also.

Iphone6Paris

A giant ad for the Iphone 6 on an historic building in Paris.

The timing 

And now we come to the part about Mercury Retrograde.  Three times a year, the planet Mercury essentially goes backward.  (Don't ask how, just accept, okay?) Most people intone the words Mercury Retrograde with the same dire tones they use to say black plague, or these days, Ebola virus. Communications go haywire, and technology goes bust.  (Don't even think of buying a new computer or phone during one of these periods.  And whatever you do, don't sign a contract.)  Travel plans tend to go awry.  Fun and games, people, fun and games.

But.

There's always a but, and this is a big one.  At the same time all the above-mentioned crazy stuff is occurring, there's something else afoot–and that is that anything that has the prefix "re" attached to it will be a good activity for you.  So, reorganizing, remembering, renewing, or, ahem, rewriting.  Yes, Mercury Retrograde is the perfect time to return to something you've been working on and a good chance to look at it with new eyes.  So there.  I've just given you reason not to dread Mercury Retrograde.  Just don't get tempted by those new Iphone 6s.  

How do you approach rewriting?

4

On Reading My Own Work: The Issue of Sentimentality

Book-books-collection-415-lTwo stories:

Story number one

I'm sitting at my computer, laughing.  My husband asks me what I'm chuckling about.

"Oh, I'm proofing my novel.  I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but Emma Jean makes me laugh, even though I wrote her."

I've gone through edits, and copy edits, and now one round of proofing, and every time it makes me laugh.  Every time, reading the novel makes me remember how much I loved writing it.  How much I love my heroine, Emma Jean.  How happy I am that the book is being published.

Story number two

This year for Christmas presents, I printed out copies of my MFA novel, Language of Trees, for my daughter and daughter-in-law, because they hounded me for it at their request.  As the chapters came off the printer, I read bits and pieces of it.  Some of it I liked, but some of it made me cringe.  And now when I picture the girls reading it, I cringe anew.

So what's the difference in these two stories?

Well for one thing, Emma Jean has been rewritten, revised and edited within an inch of her life.  Though I worked and worked at writing Language of Trees, I could never quite get it to hang together.  (I'm hoping to change that this year, and I'm giving serious thought to going the indie publishing route with it.)

But here's what I believe the major cringe-worthy factor is: sentimentality.

The best definition of sentimentality I've ever read is that it is unearned emotion.

Language of Trees still has a lot of moments of unearned emotion that have not been edited out.  The kind of thing that makes you wince when you read it.  Oh God, I just remembered a party scene from the novel wherein all the men in attendance fall head-over-heels in admiration of Collie, our heroine.  Ouch. This is embarrassing to me in retrospect because it is a sentimental moment.  Collie has done nothing to earn their ardor but appear at the party.  Unearned emotion.

And, if I'm honest, when I ponder the novel I'm currently at work on, there's lots of instances of sentimentality.  In my defense, it's still a first draft.  The one with holes big enough to drive a truck through.  (I can't remember who told me that metaphor, but whoever you are, thank you.  I love it.)  And some of those holes are unearned emotion.

So I have to admit that printing out Language of Trees was a good exercise for me, pointing out, for future reference, something I want to keep a closer eye out for.  And it gives me a road map for rewriting it.  I can start with the places that make me cringe and go from there.

How does sentimentality tend to present itself in your work?  Is it an issue for you or not?

**If you're struggling with issues of sentimentality or other writing craft problems, make 2013 your year to go full out with your writing.  Consider gifting yourself a writing coach.  There's no better way to make fast progress with your writing!

Photo by lusi.

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