The Long and Winding Road

I’m on the fourth draft of this WIP. What makes the situation unique, for me, is that I haven’t finished the first draft yet.

Usually, when I write a novel, I go all the way to the end before making any significant changes. There have been exceptions. Sometimes I’ll get the feeling the book isn’t working. Not in a small, niggling way, but a big, ‘two plus two does not equal five’ way. The motivation isn’t quite right or the ultimate conflict—the plot climax or the ultimate relationship test—feels forced. At that point, I’ll load what I have onto my tablet, read it, try to pinpoint the moment the book goes off the rails and make some notes to redirect it. This happened with both To See the Sun and Purple Haze. It wasn’t a big deal. In the case of To See the Sun, I had to go back and add a villain, which meant fleshing out an existing character and giving him a larger role in the overall plot. Simply done. Purple Haze was a little more difficult, but once I solved Dillon’s GMC (what did he really want?), I figured out what he needed to, er, sacrifice to get it done.

He and Lang got their happy ever after, okay? That’s all you need to know.

This book… Take a deep breath with me and let it out again. Yeah. This book has been a journey. Continue reading “The Long and Winding Road”

Zipping It Closed

I love writing—which is lucky for me as I’ve written (and co-written) eleven novels, eight novellas, and too many short stories to count over the past five years. I’ve also had to revise and then edit all of those books, and that’s the part I don’t love.

Over time, I’ve incorporated revision into my process. Rather than try to get it right first time, I’m now much more likely to write a book to the end and fix it later. I revise and self-edit every manuscript several times before submitting it—and that’s when the real fun starts. (Not.)

Developmental edit letters always seem to land in my inbox with an echoing thump heard across three counties, and I can never read one without feeling ill. It’s a totally physical sensation, too. My blood pounds at my temples, my skin burns, and my stomach clenches. Checking my inbox while I wait for one of these letters feels about the same as a visit to Goodreads—a horrible seesaw of doubt, elation, and horror. If I ever give up writing (and I consider it more often than is probably sane), it will probably be to save myself the stress I attach to editing.

I respect the editing process. It’s an absolutely necessary part of writing, and I appreciate the skills of my editors. I couldn’t do what I do without them. The rub, for me, is that I take edit suggestions as evidence of failure on my part to produce a perfect product. Ridiculous, I know. But I’m the kid who unraveled an entire craft project in sixth grade because it didn’t look good enough. Who would rather not submit a term paper in college and take the fail than hand in something I felt didn’t work. (Yep.)

So, obviously, publishing is probably not my ideal gig. But I do love writing—so much. I can’t imagine not telling my stories. I live and breathe them, even when I’m not actively working on them.

I just finished working on the developmental edits for Chasing Forever, the third in my upcoming series, and a curious thing happened. The issue with Brian’s book, which my editor said was already very strong (phew), was that Brian’s character arc was a little fractured. I had him focused on one thing in the first half of the book and another thing in the second half. The fix was deceptively simple. I had to combine these two episodes so that the book felt more cohesive, all while strengthening Mal’s arc so that Brian didn’t overshadow him. Basically, I had to add stuff. Rework a few scenes. Tie a few episodes together in a more purposeful manner. So I loaded the book onto my Kindle and read it, noting places along the way where I could implement these proposed changes.

Then I opened the document and actioned the notes I’d made.

But first, let me tell you about my physical reaction to the developmental edit letter for Chasing Forever. I was on vacation when it landed in my inbox (the thump echoing across three counties) and so I decided to ignore it. Who wants to feel ill while on vacation?

I read the letter the day I got home, expecting to start feeling sick at any moment, and was surprised by the contents. Yes, the book needed work, but not as much as I had feared. The manuscript wasn’t the complete mess I’d thought it was. In fact, it was apparently “already very strong.” How about that? Then I read the book, and… it was strong. I could see the problems, but the stuff surrounding them? Really good.

If you’re not a writer, trust me when I say that reading your own work and thinking it’s pretty good is… weird. I don’t think all my books are terrible. I sort of go through phases with them. I love them, I hate them, I love them, I hate them, I love them, and then I let go and pretty much never want to see them again. A year or so later I develop a sort of pleasant nostalgia for most of them. ❤

So, anyway, I’ve spent the past four days adding and subtracting, working my notes into the manuscript, and yesterday the curious thing happened. There’s a pivotal scene in the middle of the book and it’s this scene I needed to make work. I couldn’t cut it, it needs to be there. So I had to edit the book around it… and that’s what I did. I added more support for the scene throughout the first half, tying together elements that already existed but weren’t leaning on each other in the way they could and should have been. Then I got to the BIG SCENE and made a couple of changes to reflect the edits, and I physically felt the book zip together. I heard the sound. It was as though, in my mind, I could see the two halves stand up, align their interlocking tabs, and close.

It was pretty cool. I immediately went to report the sensation to my husband who nodded, made affirmative sounds, and then ruined it all by saying, “Told you! This is going to be the book!” He thought I was talking about the other book, the one that’s already all but published. The one I keep getting very flattering advance reviews for. Sigh. He does make all the right sounds, though.

So I decided to write this post because this is a huge thing for me. I enjoyed editing this book. Not at the beginning, when all I could picture was the work that needed doing and the hours I’d have to spend bent over the laptop, moving words this way and that. But in that zipping moment, a joy I’ve not experienced before swished through me and carried me toward the end of the book. I finished the rest of my edits, confident that I was doing the right thing.

I have enjoyed seeing a book come together before. A part of my respect for the editing process comes from seeing my books strengthen and shine. But I do have a theory as to why everything finally clicked with Chasing Forever. Why it felt more complete this time.

Last year, I wrote five books. This year, I had to edit four of them. I do not recommend working this way, but I think that despite the mental fatigue that has me wondering if I’ll ever write again (threat of incoming developmental edit letters aside), having edited four books in a row (I’ve been in edits since March this year)—from developmental changes, all the way through extensive line edits, copy edits, and proofreading—I’ve had enough practice to be able to approach my edits with a healthier mindset. Or maybe I’m just exhausted.

But I did notice the same thing when it came time to write that fifth book. This book, Chasing Forever. I was exhausted. But I followed my process. I built my world, worked up my character arcs, and plotted an outline. Then I started writing and didn’t stop until I typed “The End.”

Writing is an extremely emotional experience for me. I laugh and cry with my characters. I live their stories while I’m writing them. Editing has always been harder. I don’t know if it’s because it’s more of a mental than emotional exercise, or simply me laboring under the impression that I somehow failed the first time around. But now that I’ve heard the zip and felt it close, I’m hoping that it will be easier next time around. I know that it’s next to impossible to write a perfect book. Editing will always be necessary. Approaching that phase with joy rather than fear would be a nice change, though.

(Wondering about the image at the top of this post? Me too! I found it on Canva while looking for zips and became beguiled.)

The List

We all have one—even those of us who don’t write. All of us have a list of words we carry around like talismans. Often, we’re not even aware we’re using them. “Um” is just a pause for thought. “Like” can be substituted for just about anything or just, like, dropped in here and there for emphasis. Or a pause. I use “actually” a lot and it really doesn’t make me sound any smarter. “Basically” is equally annoying, and I’m not as honest as my insistent use of “honestly” might imply. My favourite two words, though, would probably be “really” and “just.” I can be really, really emphatic and often am. I also like to let you know it’s just this or just that. It seems important to me. Likely, it’s not that important to you.

As a writer, I do battle with these words and more every time I get to the editing stage of a manuscript. I self-edit some before submitting a book, looking for words like “look” and “reach.” Cutting filters when I can. But one of my favourite parts of an edit letter, when we’re done with the big picture stuff and we’re down to looking at my prose, is the list of words I tend to use a LOT. The editor I am currently working with also helpfully highlights a lot of my overused words throughout the manuscript and there’s little more shocking (or amusing) than seeing a page with the word “look” highlighted seventeen times.

Hey, look, there are four of them in the previous paragraph.

What I also look forward to are the new additions. There’s always a word I’m not aware of overusing. Sometimes it’s a verbal/mental tick that crops up as I’m writing a particular character and I’m never sure what to do with those. While I like that my characters are their own people, I don’t want them to be too annoying. I do wonder if readers notice the crutches and filters as much as editors and writers do, though. I mean, we all use them. We all think them. They’re part of the evolution of language.

The most obvious reason to comb through a manuscript, deleting and replacing crutch words, is to become a better writer. To learn how to say the same thing in multiple ways—stronger ways. To play with language and make it your pet rather than your master. I know I grow as a writer with every book, in respect to the stories I tell and the way I tell them. So it is somewhat dismaying to find the same words cropping up over and over.

Sometimes I see them as I write and I will consciously rewrite that sentence on the fly. Other times I don’t and I’m not overly worried by this. I firmly believe the best way to finish a book is to just write. To not pay too much attention to the words as they go down. My first goal is always to reach “The End.” I can always pretty it up later, and while I’m editing, red-faced over the number of times I’ve used the word “look,” I’ll stumble across a sentence that’s beautiful just the way it was written, which almost makes it all worthwhile.

I often don’t see crutch words when I self-edit, either. I have to run searches for them. The most humbling activity is to run a search on something completely unrelated to crutch and filter words, only to notice I really like using a word like “took.” Sometimes it’s horrifying to examine the way I write so closely. Makes me want to shut up shop and never attempt this stupidly difficult thing again. Inevitably, though, I’ll go back to the book, dust it off and pick away at it again—because, like crutch words, writing (for writers) is one of those inevitable things.

There are a lot of resources online regarding crutch and filter words, and ways to deal with them. It’s useful to look through the lists and see if you have a problem you weren’t aware of. Best thing, though, is to start a list of your own. Add a word to it every time you notice it crops up more than it should and think about why you use that word. Jot down some alternatives. You probably won’t remember any of this next time you write, but the list will prove invaluable when it comes time to edit. Just remember, with every story you write, the list will grow rather than shrink. But that’s okay! You’re growing too.

* Though it was tempting to highlight ALL of my crutch words, and a number of the filters in this post, I went with my top three to save your eyesight and myself the embarrassment. Now it’s your turn. What are some of your favourite words?

Letting Go

If there is one thing writing has taught me, it’s how to let go. It’s not an easy lesson, and out of all the lessons of the past few years, it’s the one I struggle with most—probably because it’s just so important. It affects every stage of the writing process and has value in other areas of my life.

I haven’t blogged much this month. I’ve been busy writing a book! It’s nearly done and I’m going to post a teaser for it next week and blog about the process of writing it. The knockdown, drag about fight I had with my copy edits for Block and Strike yesterday prompted this post. I wrote Block and Strike over two years ago. I revised it last year and rewrote a significant portion of it this year. Right now, it’s that book. The one I’ve invested a lot of self into. And yesterday, I finally had to let it go. Continue reading “Letting Go”

Chapter…What?

Jenn and I are in the developmental edit stage for Chaos Station, first in a series of male/male science fiction romance novels we’re publishing with Carina Press. I hope to have more details to share soon, such as a release date and cover. Until then, I’d like to share some of the fun we’re having while we edit.

Based on some suggestions made by our editor, we decided to add a couple of scenes to the book. This necessitated moving one chapter forward by two slots—making it chapter seventeen instead of fifteen. Maybe. We still haven’t figured out the numbering. Not sure what to number the first new chapter, Jenn labeled it “Chapter Whatever”. Amused by this heading, we came up with some other non-numerical alternates such as “This Is the Chapter Where I Kick Ass” and “This is the Chapter Where I Sex You Up.” Continue reading “Chapter…What?”