Thoughts on Editing a Book
This is a writing blog. It's a record of my thoughts on writing.
Ironically, I've often struggled with what I want to write about in this space. Time spent writing at my house (six kids, remember!) is limited, and I can't spend hours blogging "about writing" while I fail to work on my writing. As I've thought about this the past few months, I've had these thoughts:
1. I want the content on this blog to be useful to other writers, or interesting to those who want to know more about the world of writing.
2. I want my time spent here to be improving my own writing craft. Let's hit two birds with one stone, amiright?
3. I want to be able to share my writing, rather than horde it on my computer (even if/when agents/editors aren't ready to do the same). Writing is interactive, it needs to be coupled with reading, and I shouldn't have to give that part of writing up because of the faraway opinions of people I don't know.
Sooooooo, I started a few projects:
1. I've decided to write a poem a week (rather than a poem a day) about the beautiful things I see in my world... and be willing to share it.
2. I've decided to participate in some writing exercises (currently Le Guin's Steering the Craft)... and be willing to share those efforts.
3. And I've decided to share some writing serially.
I've always loved the idea of how novels used to be published serially in newspapers/magazines. I know we're an on-demand kind of culture lately, but it's fun to participate in a story together, to wonder where it's going and wait with bated breath. This summer, I want to share one of my old stories serially. Not only that, I want to share the original version, talk about problems it has and places it can go, and then share an edited version.
This is interesting to me, the way people change/edit their work. Every writer is different. Some of us have a zillion drafts, some have two. Some plan for ages, some wing it. I tend to go into a story with only a few details, and then I return to it over and over again to put fixes in... but my first story was more of a pour out of your soul story. It was my first effort, and to be honest, I didn't know how hard this writing world was. I thought: I want to write... and then I went and did it. What comes from that effort is a story I love, with many problems, that still has gems inside it that carry meaning - despite its deficiencies. Despite the fact that it isn't "ready to be published."
First stories belong under beds and in closets. Ask any writer. But what about looking at a first story as a writing exercise? What about asking what could be changed and what could make it better? What about fixing my inability to add subplots using my own work? What about letting that space of ten years allow me to critique myself on description and character development, and knowing my genre?
I recently listened to a RadioLab podcast about a virtual reality therapy session where the person seeking therapy acted as both troubled soul and therapist. By moving in and out of different roles, this person is able to help themselves see through their own problems. (Ms. LeGuin agrees with my use of "their" there, just so you know ;) and I'm willing to stake my grammar usage on her authority.) So, let's do it with writing. Let's go back in time and talk about what could have been done better.
And let's hear a story while we're at it. Who doesn't loved a good story???
And with all that said:
Here's the unedited, Chapter One:
(Keep reading afterward for my thoughts on some much-needed changes, and how to get a copy of the new draft.)
Okay, so here we've got a long-ago draft, of a story I haven't thought about for years. Reading through it, I changed and highlighted a few details as I went along, pointed out questions I had, or places the writing read awkwardly. There's also some tense and pacing issues. But I have a few big questions too:
1. What age group are we targeting here? Young Adult, or Middle Grade? Right now this feels like Middle Grade, but I happen to know the story as a whole might do better as Young Adult. What can we do to make Nora seem older? Can she be more rebellious, more angry? Can we see more darkness in this first chapter? Or do we want to go Middle Grade, do we want to let the story inhabit that space? Own the voice? Regardless, I've got to be mindful about this decision, and I need to know, right here in the first chapter, what it's going to be. I've got to let my reader know too.
2. Where in the heck are we? This seems like a pretty generic fairytale story setting. And that's even considering the fact that there's very little description of setting anyway. No surprise, since it's a first book. But what can we tweak here to make it different? We need a unique setting. We need to do a little world building to set this book apart. We need to let the reader feel where they are right away. And while it should be somewhat familiar - so they can fill in details - it should also be waaaayyy different so they get to escape to a space outside their current reality.
3. I know we're going with a Sleeping Beauty retelling, but we don't have to follow the story exactly. In fact, the more we take liberties, the more interesting it will be. So maybe a spinning wheel isn't really where we want to start? Let's throw some unexpected realities into the story.
And now, to go back and produce the edit.
I'm thinking I'm going to release the first chapter in a newsletter (I should learn how to work a newsletter in the next few days), so if you'd like to see where this chapter ends up, head to the menu on this website and sign up for the "Serial Editing Newsletter". Hope to see you there!