The Luxury of Editing.

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Hi Melissa, this one’s for you!!

We are the few, the proud, the writers. We write, we read back, we re-write, we edit, someone else edits, we re-write, some one copy-edits, we correct, we release our baby.

Yes, it’s a lot of work taking a book from inception to published page, but every time I get those manuscripts back from my various editors so marked up with red pen that they look like they have a bad rash, I have a similar train of thought. It goes something like this, “Oh my GOD!! It’s so much work! I’ll never get through this. Oh wait, maybe it’s not so bad, okay, I can fix that. I’ll insert here, delete there, change a few words, make a few corrections, fix the glaring hole in my plot, re-phrase some dialogue. Wow, lookie there, I’m done!” But no edit is complete until I drop to my knees and give thanks for my Macbook pro.

Imagine having to write with a typewriter and carbon-paper. Just think of having to retype every page on which there was a correction or a change. Or, going even further back, dipping a quill in ink and scratching out your manuscript on parchment by candle light. No wonder some books were so long-winded then, it was too much trouble to cut them! Now, we highlight sentences with a stroke of a finger, move paragraphs with a flick of the wrist, rearrange chapters and page breaks with a pudgy, chocolate-smeared thumb, and send our manuscripts flying through the air from our living rooms, without even having to dislodge our cats from our laps.

It’a brave new world. Though honestly, I think it took a lot more courage to pluck a goose feather from a large, angry, aquatic bird and make art with it. Shakespeare did it, sure, so did Marlowe, but I might have stuck with an easier profession, like, oh I don’t know, indentured serfdom, for example.

So here’s my editing process. Once I have the basic foundation of my book/plot. I start to write. Normally, I write a few pages a day, sometimes a chapter, depends on the length of the chapter. My Callaway Wilde books proceed at a frenzied pace, so the chapters are short and get shorter near the end as the pace builds. My new book, “Invisible Ellen” has more leisurely chapters, meandering along with her very unique thought process, it speaks more of her ‘watching the world go by’ life. Something always happens, mind you, I must forward the story in each chapter, it was grilled into me by my first editor a fabulous woman at Simon and Schuster named Amy Pierpont. Meandering and flowery descriptions be damned!

I do not edit as I go. I would never get anywhere. I compare this to life. Let’s say, for example, that you have a small run-in with someone in the carpool line at school, they insult you or disagree in a surprising and unpleasant way, you fumble through a reply, but it’s not what you wanted to say. Okay, that’s your scenario. It’s written down on the history/page of your day. On your way home, you edit. You think of all the things you could have said, the witty comeback, the insouciant non-chalance, the careless toss of the head, the unaffected, perfectly timed laugh. You are re-writing this in your head, and low and behold, you become the faultless heroine/hero you always knew you could be.

If only you’d thought of it the first time.

But we’re not all Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde. You can’t always perform perfectly the first time out. You have to get it out there first, on the page, or in your life. So, when writing, I do exactly that, I write, with mistakes. Then I put it away. Then the next day, the first thing I do is read back what I wrote the day before, making very minor changes as I go, things that won’t slow me down too much. I need to get a sense of the pace of what I was writing as well as the words and story. I might make a correction to glaring punctuation mistakes, or reinsert dropped words, sometimes I change up an overused adjective or make a judicious cut when the point has been made, and made, and made already. But only if I can do it quickly, big things I note, and return to later.

This puts me back in the flow of things, back in my character’s heads and the pace of my story. So I can start from where I left off and move forward to the next chapter. I do not ever stop and do a thorough line edit, not until I’m done with the first draft, it would break up my pace too much and the rhythm of the writing would become choppy and interrupted. Flow and pacing are very important. They keep a reader in your mood, your motif, your world.

Occasionally, I decide on a plot change, and then I will spend a day or two going back through the completed chapters making the necessary adjustments. That’s because I have to make those changes before I can move on.

I suppose we do this in life too. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. Too many people completely reinvent themselves without giving credit to the magnificent mistakes that got them where they are. Not me baby. I’ve got siblings. They will never let me forget that I almost wet my pants when my brother put a snake in my bed, that I fell down in front of 20 thousand people in a skating competition, that I was a cocaine addict when I was eighteen, that I was a bitch, oh, I could go on, but the list is so very, very long.

So books are our opportunity to correct ourselves, to say what we really wanted to say, to have the gift of a do-over, to inhabit a perfect world.

Deadlines aside, we’ve got all the time in the world to get it right.

And that, is not anything like life. We have a limited amount of time to get it right, to learn our lessons, to be kind, to be patient, to make choices that matter, so that in the end, we can look back and see not just the red marks, but the original beauty behind them.

So write your life today, re-read it tomorrow and see where you can improve it, make those changes, live a month, and look at the bigger picture, live a year and become a better person, live a lifetime and leave an epic.

And leave the red-marks. They are the places you took a chance, or you got tired and made a mistake. But most of all, they are the points where we were most human. Any dummy can screw up, but only someone willing to admit it can make it better.

So stick a red flag on my past, and look out for those sticky spots in the future, ’cause I’m not done messing up.

It’s how I learn.

Shari, October 26, 2012

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