Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Saturday, January 28, 2017

How to know when it's time to take your characters to bed

So, I’m editing my third novel, Bleak Landing, which releases in August. I’ve learned that I love the editing process more than the actual writing, probably because you’re taking something you had to tear your hair out just to get onto the page and now you’ve got help to polish it and make it much better. I’m learning that a good editor is worth their weight in coffee pods—and not the cheap kind. 

The way it works is, I receive my manuscript back from my development editor, Shari. What was once three hundred plain, black-and-white, double-spaced pages is now a rainbow of Track Changes, averaging three or more per paragraph. I’m eager to dig in, knowing I have about two weeks to work my way through all Shari’s comments and suggestions and return it. Then we do a second, shorter round the same way. A few weeks later, I’ll get it back from the copy editor and go through the process one last time before my baby is completely out of my hands.

Right now I’m in the middle of the first round. Most of the time, it’s just a matter of clicking on either “accept” or “reject” or choosing a more precise word. Sometimes it means clarifying a whole sentence for the reader or deleting an unnecessary one. Sometimes it’s verifying a historical element. Occasionally, Shari challenges me to rework an entire scene to make it more engaging for the reader. She’ll write something like, “This is a little pat/cliché. I know you can give me something even stronger.” Or “I’m not sure this is convincingly romantic enough.”

If that challenge happens to come at 8:00 on a Friday night after I’ve met my obligation at my day job, grocery shopped, made dinner, cleaned the kitchen, and already spent a couple of hours editing at a desk that’s in desperate need of tidying and the pain in my shoulders is screaming for relief—I can get a little surly. I want to yell at Shari, “You’re wrong, you tyrant! I can’t give you something stronger. This is it. I was proud of that scene! It’s the best I can do. So shut up and leave me alone!”

Yeah, that’s when you know it’s time to close the laptop and call it a day. Take your characters to bed with you and pray they’ll show you better words by morning.

In the middle of this process, my second book, Maggie’s War, is launching—a bit of a timing misfortune on the publisher’s part. But I can’t whine about it and still appear professional, especially when I’ve only just got my nose in the door of this business. So I’m juggling plans for three launch events, radio interviews, and newspaper ads. I’m keeping track of receipts, preparing speeches and door prizes, and responding to early reviewers. Oh yes, and it’s really time to put up another blog post. And how can I answer questions about the second novel when my head’s all wrapped up in the third? The characters and situations are all muddled together.

Seems a bit much for a woman who still can’t get through the day without a substantial nap.

But guess what? Lots of writers would kill to have the problems I’m describing. I could have called this post “Be careful what you wish for.” After all, I wanted this. Prayed for this. It seems when God opens a flood gate, he does a thorough job. Sure, I could throw up my hands and say “forget it.” I could return the manuscript just the way it is, collect the remainder of my advance, and call it a career. The book would still be published. Sales would be disappointing. Reviews would be dismal. A chance at another contract would be gone. I could spend the rest of my life on the couch watching Netflix or reading other writers’ books, ignoring the words on my laptop’s wallpaper: “I want to see what happens if I don’t give up.”

It’s seven a.m. and I’ve had a decent sleep. My desk is still a mess. The bathroom’s dirty and laundry waits. I’ve got a book launch in three days. But I’ll go back and tackle that troublesome scene because, deep down, I know Shari is right. I can do better. And I owe it to her, to my readers, to myself, and most of all, to my Creator, to give it my very best.

But first, another cup of coffee. The cheap kind. Sigh.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17