Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Who says you need a Thanksgiving turkey to have leftovers?

We roasted a wee chicken (thank you, dear bird) and enjoyed both of the fixings that I’d been looking forward to. Cranberry-pear salsa…

…and mirliton dressing…

which is easy enough to make for any meal:

1. Shell 1/2 lb. uncooked, large domestic shrimp (the Gulf fishermen and the environment will thank you!), save shells and make a stock with them.

2. Boil 2 mirliton in water until tender (you can poke a knife through them), then remove center and cut into cubes.

3. When stock is done, drain and remove from heat, then put uncooked shrimp in stock to semi-cook as the stock cools.

4. Sautee a chopped onion, one bell pepper, three cloves of garlic (minced), a bag of frozen artichoke hearts, salt and pepper, and a cup of chopped celery–when everything is finished cooking, add shrimp and a splash of the stock (so shrimp won’t burn) to allow shrimp to finish cooking (you may want to halve the shrimp since they are the large ones–or just buy medium-sized shrimp).

5. Blend the sautee mix into a casserole dish with remainder of stock (about a cup) then add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of bread crumbs until all the liquid is absorbed. Once it’s at the consistency you want, drizzle olive oil over the top (2 tables.).

6. Bake uncovered at 350 for at least a 1/2 hour until it’s hot all the way through.


But this post isn’t only about food leftovers…

 Lately, I’ve been collecting leftover words, too. In fact, I am becoming an official word-hoarder. When I am editing my WIP, I cut my words (I know they need to go, I do) but I can’t seem to bring myself to erase them FOREVER, so I store them in an ever-growing ADD file, and I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t have a serious problem.

How is it that I can be the queen of the throw-out, avoiding closet clutter and feeling great relief when possessions are whittled down from four boxes into one? No “Hoarders” here. Or so I thought.

So why not let go of the words, Erika? What are you so afraid of? Sure there are some very special lines, ones for the books (yes, pun intended), lines to tell the grandkids about! But if they don’t work (much like the shoes that don’t fit anymore) then WHY KEEP THEM?

Leftovers: Use ’em or lose ’em.

Yay or nay, friends?

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…when you look at that paragraph/scene/line that you worshipped, the one that you wrote and immediately afterward had to stand up and walk around the room a few times because you were so full of the sheer joy and pride of its brilliance that you simply couldn’t sit still–

–then you delete it without hesitation, without an ounce of regret, without a tear. Because your agent or your editor or maybe both said it didn’t work, and you realized they were absolutely right.

Yes, dear friends. You’re a writer.

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The mighty first draft. We have such great expectations, don’t we? We all want perfection. We all imagine we will produce a manuscript that makes us smile, laugh, cry and cheer the first time around. After all, if we can’t get it down the first time, then it must not be our true vision, right? We must not be every bit the storyteller we imagine? Right?


Wrong. It just doesn’t work that way.

Well, not for me, at least. And I should know.  I’m fighting the first-draft-blues myself just now.

Now don’t get me wrong–my WIP is delightful, delicious and every bit as juicy as I hoped it would be when I first sank my teeth into it several months ago. But it’s not great. It’s flawed. Hugely flawed. And what’s more is I know it’s hugely flawed, even as I write, and write and write.

But you know what? It’s supposed to be. Because first drafts are supposed to need work. Lots of it.

Now the fall is a big birthday season in our house, so lately I’ve been thinking of story structure and development like a birthday cake.

Bear with me: You start with the basic cake. Say, a simple yellow sheet cake. This sheet cake is your first draft. It’s solid, it’s the foundation of your masterpiece, but it’s not nearly enough on its own. Still, it has to be a good cake or else all the decorations, all the buttercream roses or the piped scalloped edging or the Scooby Doo candles, will not make up for a bad tasting cake. (Not in our house, at least. )

Next is your crumb coat. Draft #2. This is your thin coat to keep those dastardly crumbs from rising to the surface of your beautiful finished product. Again, nothing too fancy or too involved. We’re still working on the foundation here. Evening out the sides, making sure we have clean corners, a nice flat top, etc.

Now with draft #3, we’re finally getting closer to the good stuff. We know we’ve got a strong base so we can begin to apply the final coat of frosting liberally, making sure the surface is the smoothest surface possible. Then, only when we have that smooth surface can we safely and confidently move on to…

Draft #4.The decorations. So get out those frosting bags and go for it. Put the finishing touches on that masterpiece, light those candles, and send it out to be enjoyed.

Now that’s not to say every manuscript will take 4 drafts. (I could have easily used the 14-tiered wedding cake for this analogy–I’ve baked those cakes too, if you know what I mean.) The point is that a first draft is just that. The first. Of many.

So shake off that crumb coat of self-doubt and cuticle-tearing-pressure and take comfort, as I do, that the point of a first draft is to simply get it down. A first draft doesn’t have to be beautiful or tidy or frankly even enjoyable. It just has to be done.

Then you can get to the good stuff.

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Who knew I was so fond of the word brightly?

Turns out I am. Fanatical, even. In one of my recent editorial passes at my novel, I came to realize that I liked one of my characters to respond “brightly” to practically everything she did when she was of a certain mood.

She smiled brightly (well, yeah, who doesn’t?)

She laughed brightly (ditto)

She replied brightly (maybe not universal, but still.)

And sometimes, just sometimes, she even LOOKED brightly.

Yikes. Enough already!

Now, I am still committed to this charming and pivotal aspect of her personality, but, man! Methinks I need to lay off the brightness. There are other ways to suggest someone is: hopeful/sunny/optimistic/cheerful. Particularly when one doesn’t depend on an adverb to do it.

What about you all? Any descriptive words, phrases, analogies that you find yourself drawn to like a moth to a (bright!) flame?

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Good news tonight!

My editor has finished reading the newest draft of LITTLE GALE GUMBO (which includes a new ending!) and she’s delivered a hearty thumbs up! We’re nearly there, she assures me, which is wonderful to hear, because I’m due to deliver the final draft of the novel to NAL in a little over a month. Just a few changes left, she says, nothing huge. I’m relieved, and thrilled. The next step is to make edits using track changes, which means the file is now THE FILE. It’s a brave new world for this kid, but I’m ready. Put me in, coach!

All this sounds like a good excuse to celebrate. (I’m one of those people who needs little encouragement to reward myself–Laundry folded? Let’s open that bottle of red!)

So what’s a better reward than a smooth, tangy slab of  triple cream soft-ripened cheese that’s been nearly melting in room-temperature North Carolina heat?

Presenting, Le Delice de Bourgogne (just imagine an accent aigu over the second e)…

I might use some bread or I might just use a spoon, I’m not entirely sure…

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So, you finally heard back from the agent who has had your partial or your full. You open the email/letter with your heart in your throat. Your eyes dash over the response, catching every other word, hoping to glean the real message as quickly as possible. When you do, your brow furrows. It’s not a no, but…well, it’s not a yes, either.

So what is it?
It’s the mysterious revise and resubmit request.

When I read junebugger’s post today, I was reminded of this often-frustrating but usually-encouraging happening in the world of writing and publishing. So what to do when an agent requests a revision of your manuscript and then offers a second look?
Better yet, what to think?

Let’s look first at the second question: What to think? The first answer is think good thoughts. Agents are busier than ever these days, and inundated with more material than ever. They aren’t offering you ways to possibly improve your manuscript as well as the chance to reconsider it just to be nice.  They are doing it because they genuinely believe there is potential in your work.

So if they believe there’s potential, why not just offer representation outright? Well, an agent-writer relationship is just that: a relationship. Your agent has to know that she/he can work with you, not just your written words. Are you easy to work with? Will you respond professionally, in your dealings with the agent, with potential editors/publishers, with the reading public? Can you meet deadlines? And maybe most of all, how well do you take reviews of your manuscript and subsequent requests for changes?

So when you get that wonderful offer to revise and resubmit, don’t despair. Sure, we all want the offer for representation–that’s the goal–but keep in mind the road to representation (and the road to publication in general) is winding and bumpy and never, ever straight. It’s not a yes, but it’s not a no, either.

So if  the agent’s recommendations for your manuscript make sense to you and are ones you are comfortable making, then by all means, revise and resubmit. And even if the results still don’t garner the offer, always remember that most agents have remarkable memories for material and writers who piqued their interest. A courteous and professional exchange goes a long way down that winding, bumpy road.

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For anyone who has written a novel that shifts between the past and the present, it can be a tricky thing to keep track of time. I struggled for months to keep notes on the ages of my characters and the timeline of my story, a task which involved a level of organization that I had not previously employed. But when draft after draft, I added or subtracted years between events, I was grateful for it.

Lavender blooming in February?...Are you sure about that?

I don’t kid myself that no one will notice. Not even for a second. I don’t know about you, but I have a disturbing memory for details and I know I would notice if Ben was 52 in 1975 and then 60 in 1981. I do the math. And I suspect most readers do, too.

Years ago, when I was an art director at a magazine, I saw first-hand the difficult job of the copy editor, picking up tiny mistakes that had been missed in articles, saving everyone involved varying degrees of embarrassment. Having that appreciation for a copy editor’s work, I most certainly feel a tremendous responsibility to deliver the sharpest and most accurate manuscript I can. It shouldn’t be up to a copy editor to catch that I’ve made Matthew’s hair ash on page 67 and then golden blond on page 118.

So as the time draws nearer to delivering the final draft of LITTLE GALE GUMBO to my editor, I think about all the little things that I might miss in a final read-over, not just ages and dates. A character smiling too many times in a single scene, or worse, someone’s eyes changing color (and not from contact use) from one scene to the next.

To make sure I don’t, I’ve constructed a character journal and listed all the physical traits I’ve assigned to my characters. I have been in awe of how many times I’ve returned to double-check–not because I don’t know my characters inside and out, but because I know how easy it is to trip up on the little things in the heat of writing.

Any of you have any tricks for mastering the little things, or any novels you’ve written that have posed a similar challenge?

How about any books you’ve read that have included continuity details that have slipped through the editing cracks?

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It’s fairly easy to tell when an egg is done. A marshmallow over a campfire. Certainly a pot of coffee–it stops dripping. Even relationships usually offer a pretty clear picture of when they are “done”–even if the participants choose to ignore the signs (think the smell of burning toast).

But when it comes to writing, or many other creative endeavors, being DONE is never a sure thing. Right now I am about to send off a draft to my editor and until the minute my finger presses the send button, I fear I will tweak it within an inch of its life. Now is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Some things can stand to be improved upon (one notable exception: a coconut  Hubig’s Pie, www.hubigs.com) but for a manuscript, when do we say it’s done?

When we press the send button?

When it’s printed?

When someone buys it in a bookstore?

The nature of editing and revision is to, well, edit and revise. But is there such a thing as TOO much fussing? I’m sure. I just need to know WHEN that is.

Any ideas?

Keywords: writing revising hubigs pies

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The sour cherry tree behind our old house must be full of fruit just now, and it will be time for picking. For my husband, the process was always a blustery event, a mad plucking of any reasonably ripe-looking cherry, then I would inspect every single one for even the smallest hint of insect life. (“Is that a worm? Honey, I think that’s a worm.”) It is not so different in our kitchen: he is the wild, carefree chef, slinging onion peels and spraying pepper, while I tidily chop garlic on a miniature cutting board and neatly deposit my ingredients into little bowls.

Revising a manuscript is not so different. There is a time for cutting with abandon (Kill your darlings, the phrase all writers know and take great comfort in sometimes) and a time for mincing with a finer blade, or in the case of cherry-picking, filling your container with anything remotely ripe, then sorting through your bounty with a more critical eye towards the sour cherry coffee cake you plan to end up with.

I find both methods to be satisfying, if not at times, challenging, and even downright frightening. After many years of revisions, I have come to understand the process and even find peace in the devil I now (think) I know. I often equate it to taking apart an engine (and I am sure I am the millionth person to make this analogy): You start with something assembled, then you disassemble it and even though you know the pieces on the worktable in front of you WILL go back together and WILL result in a working engine, you can’t help but feel that panic of HOW to get them back together now that they sit apart.

So take comfort, rest assured, they will go back together and, best of all, the engine will perform better.

Especially after a slice of sour cherry coffee cake.

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