Friday Speak Out: A Friend in Need, Guest Post by Jo Barney

Friday, May 08, 2009
A Friend in Need

by Jo Barney

Editing. I believe I have it down pat. I have worked the pages of my novel until they are skin and bones, so lean I am envious. Time to get serious about marketing? I ask myself. One more time through, I think, a little worry niggling at me. I have Mother Jan and Son Tim lifting their shoulders at each other more than once, I’m pretty sure.

My iMac has a Find-Change feature I have used only to change a character’s name once and for all to Sally not Suzy. Rather than read through those three hundred-twenty pages yet another time, I decide to find the excessive shrugs with the help of my electronic proofreader. To my dismay, I uncover twenty-two of them, or an average of two shoulder liftings per chapter, and the problem becomes, how do I change some, at least, of these twitches and still show instead of tell?

The answer, I soon realize, is one at a time. Jan raises her eyebrows, bends her head, throws up her hands, rolls her eyes, and gets comfortable with an expanded vocabulary of body language to show her indifference. Her son, however, being sixteen, needs to shrug constantly. In place of shoulder jerkings, he learns to mutter words Jan doesn’t want to hear to indicate his “whatever” feelings.

The smile problem is harder. A smile between two cheerful people is as ubiquitous as the word “said.” (She smiled as she handed me the book; "Yes,” he said, smiling at my confusion.) All five of the children in my book either smile or--I discover with Ms. Find-Change’s help--tear up. I thought I had been in trouble with shrugging. A search of smile/tear led to eighty-two instances of what could be termed obsessive-compulsive behavior on the part of these kids. In my revision, their mouths curve, eyes crinkle, grins show their eyeteeth (or lack of them), or they say things like “I like you,” and leave the smile to the reader’s imagination. Tear-wise, eyes moisten, water trickles down nose crevasses and into ears, wet blinks flicker, views get foggy, Kleenex gets dabbed.

I have spent the good part of a week with my electronic assistant and feel good about our collaborative efforts. Time to market. I box the book. Second thoughts attack as I wrap it in brown paper. Perhaps my wonderful Jan breathes too much. I go back to the computer, look and find only three “breathes.” However, Jan also inhales, exhales, chokes, fills her chest, sighs, sends the breath to her aching thighs (a yoga thing) and holds it in her lungs for long moments.

Well, I think, as I paste the label on the package, so do I, all of these various breathings. I’m doing them right now, in fact. I shrug, tuck the manuscript under my arm, smile, and head for the post office.

Jo Barney is a writer from Portland, Oregon.


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Joanne said...

You're definitely not alone in that issue! Thank goodness for the Word Search tool. I guess it's all an inherent part of editing, at least it's a little easier taking out and substituting than the original writing.

PM27-BLUEDAY27 said...

Yes! So glad to learn about this short-cut to change. Alas, it was a bit late for me, as well but I certainly will be using this feature in the future.


Custom Essay said...

Just like what Joanne said, you are not alone. I've been in that situation too and I'm pretty sure that all writer experience the same thing. Editing is really a big task and there are a lot of things to do. I'm actually at the essay topic choosing stage at the moment. I hope the writing and editing stages will not consume my whole waking hours...haha.

Anonymous said...

That aside, I think that a multiple-contributor blog would give you support and provide some other perspectives. You could combine this with your ideas on coaching/ghostwriting and work with 'intern' contributors to hone their skills, see their work supplying your site, and give them the tools they need to take your philosophies and understanding out on their own tangents. It might give you a regular supply of fresh, new writers and keep things going while allowing you to step back a little. (If you did go with the intern idea, drop me a line, will you? *g*)

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