E is for….Editing

I’m an impatient person. I want things to move quickly and efficiently. I’m also unrealistic in gauging how much time a project will take. And I get frustrated when my vision for how something should go doesn’t match the reality. (These are also just some of the many reasons why I meditate.)

Writing a novel is an exercise in inefficiency. There isn’t a one-to-one ratio in words written to words published. I have piles and piles of pages that will never see the light of day, storylines that will never be more than notes jotted on scraps of paper, novels half-started and then abandoned. But I also have material that climbed out of the morass and became something interesting. Something readable.

Before I was a writer, I used to think that books fell out of the brain fully formed. The writer was a conduit, nothing more. Now I know that none of the good stuff gets where it is without rounds and rounds of blood, sweat and editing. Here’s how I edit and rewrite:  I poke and prod at the characters, examining their motivations and identities. I hack unnecessary scenes, rewrite entire chapters and destroy villages. When I can’t take it further, it goes to beta readers and I revise some more. After that, it goes to my amazing editor, Rebecca Heyman. Then back again for more editing.

And yeah, it’s totally inefficient. This still frustrates me on some level. Then I remind myself that maybe efficiency isn’t the highest goal, that maybe the highest goal is writing the best stuff I can. Then I tell myself to shut up already and go write.


Patchwork Quilts and Shitty First Drafts

photo (12)My mom is a quilter. She makes gorgeous quilts for the family, although I’d like to note for the record that my sister gets WAY more quilts that I do.  (Hi, Mom!)  Initially my mom thought I’d enjoy quilting, too, but she overestimated my patience and fine motor skills.  I like the idea of quilting, though, and love fabric stores.  All those beautiful patterns and colors just waiting to be turned into something pretty and useful.

Much like my shitty first drafts.

I subscribe to the Anne Lamott theory of first drafts – they are shitty.*  You throw whatever’s in your mind onto paper, call it a first draft, and it is terrible.  Shitty, to be exact.  And I love that concept.  It is freeing, once you’re in the groove of a story, to dump ideas onto the page and brush away concerns about plot, characters and consistency by saying, “It’s okay, it’s just a shitty first draft.”

I blazed through the shitty first draft of my second novel last fall.  I finished in in 23 days and then stuck it in a drawer for a few months.  Before I went on my writing retreat last February, I read the first draft again.  And it was shitty.

I plunged into the second draft…only to discover I had no idea how to write a second draft.  The one I did for Some Flew North was so long ago.  Plus I also had no idea what I was doing then.  (I have a better idea now – at least slightly.)  I lacked a guiding metaphor for my second draft.  If first drafts were shitty, what are second drafts?

I lacked a guiding metaphor for my second draft

I muddled through a few weeks on the second draft, which mainly involved me scowling at my computer screen and checking Facebook.  (Then Twitter, then I’d buy some music on Amazon and go back to scowling.)

Here’s what kept me from writing:

I thought the second draft would be perfect

I envisioned fixing every plot hole, every weak characterization and every inconsistency in time to send this baby to my beta readers.  Then it would be magically published, of course.  And all before the end of summer.


My second draft isn’t perfect.  It will probably need at least one more draft before other eyes can see it.  Rather, my second draft is a patchwork quilt.  I’m pulling material from my first draft and stitching it together with new content.  Some of the seams are ragged, some won’t hold, and some of the fabric is boring.  But the design is emerging.  It’s more like a blanket now – something pretty and useful – than a collection of scraps.

For now, at least, it’s keeping me warm.

Question: How do you approach your second drafts?  What tips do you have for working with rough drafts?

*For more on shitty first drafts, and all kinds of wonderful advice, check out Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and this post from Brain Pickings.

I find my blog focus, at least for now

My Cemeteries and Pajamas blog is a work in progress, as is the nature of blogs, I suppose.  For a few weeks I’ve been content simply to have a site, knowing that its focus and voice will develop the more I blog.  Enter Create Your Writer Platform by Chuck Sambuchino, which has been one of several invaluable tools helping me navigate the world of professional writing.

Sambuchino outlines three potential niches for blogs (in chapter five for those of you wanting a closer look):

  • the “loose subject connection” niche, where the blogger writes about a subject that’s the major theme of her/his book
  • the “altogether different” niche, where the blogger writes about a passion that’s unrelated to her/his book
  • the “writing focus” niche, where the blogger focuses on her/his writing journey

Here’s the sentence that caught my attention:  “What a blogger will not likely realize is that there must be more than five thousand of these ‘new writer’ blogs out there.” (p. 85)

I never wanted Cemeteries and Pajamas to be a blog solely about my writing journey.  Do you really want to hear how many words I wrote today?  Or the tricky plot knot I unraveled over breakfast?  Snoozefest.  I have nothing against blogs like this (and I actually enjoy reading about other people’s writing journey), but I don’t want to be blog number 5,001.

I considered the “altogether different” route and blog about a passion of mine, but there are already some stellar Bruce Springsteen fan sites out there.

Which leaves the “loose subject connection” niche.  I write fantasy fiction.  I visit cemeteries, libraries and archives.  I do research related to my planned historical fiction novels.  I wear pajamas a lot.  I’m on sabbatical and am already worried about how my professional writing life and my professional library life will intersect in a few months.

Then it hit me – Cemeteries and Pajamas will focus on ways to support and enhance the writing life.  At first I’ll mainly write about ways I’m supporting my own writing, whether discussing research trips, contemplating work/life balance or reviewing pajamas.  I hope my discoveries will help others, who will in turn inspire me with more techniques for fostering the writing life.  It’ll be a big, happy writing life support group.

Okay, so I’m still mainly writing a “writing focus” blog, but hey, at least I have some direction now, plus a new blog tag line.  Look for posts about archival finding aids soon!  (It’ll be fun – I promise.)