by Jo Barney
At some point, one must say, “It’s finished.” I have punched the Publish button at Createspace. Edith going to have to go it on her own from now on.
I’ve edited, re-read line-for-line and had friends point out typos. I’ve done some new formatting, centered the little trees at the beginning of chapters, and consistently double-spaced when the scenes change.
I’ve researched the large number of anachronisms that snuck into the first drafts. AIDs in 1974? Bubble tea in the early 90’s? All gone. Jake’s Crawfish is still in the book. Actually, so is bubble tea, inaccurate but fun to read about. Tarantino has replaced HBO as an incentive for Edith to say a certain uncouth word a few times, after research indicated he didn’t shrink at using the word over one hundred times in an early 1990’s film.
I reviewed the timeline of my story and changed my characters’ ages by two years so that Edith could get through high school before she had to get married, which made her son as little younger than I wanted, but I changed that, too.
The most shocking changes I had to make were to words that over the almost-three hundred pages of the book I had repeated so often I wondered if a cog were loose somewhere in my brain. When I noticed a repetition of the word “swallow,” (several of my characters like their wine), I typed it into the “Search in Document” space on the Word page. A side column appeared and told me that I had used the word thirty-some times, once or twice a chapter. Not always drinking. Edith swallowed her words; the noise in the room swallowed her; she couldn’t swallow a story being told her, a fog swallowed the neighborhood. Of course, a certain amount of wine and alcohol also got swallowed. I asked for synonyms from my wordy husband: “gulped, sipped, filled his mouth, drained,” he advised. “And maybe you should change the whole sentence to some other action, ‘like closed his eyes.’” I knew I had used that phrase pretty often too. It took me a day to get down to about ten irreplaceable swallows.
Several other verbs made themselves known for the same reason. “Touch,” for one; “turned,” for another. "Nodded," for a third. Then I was relieved to realize this flaw was not senility–related. I recalled that in my first unpublished novel, a teenager shrugged at least twice in each chapter and I could come up with no other description of that action. And the little grade school kids in the same book smiled so often their cheeks quivered all day.
I apparently have some sort of repetition tic that emerges when I’m at my computer trying to make a story go into words.
I wonder if Annie Dillard or Alice Munro or Cheryl Strayed spend much time with the “Search in Document” space. Or, perhaps they hire a good editor, like all of the books on writing advise us would-be authors. I will too, maybe, on the next story, now that I’m finished with Edith.
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Her stories, essays, and novels all reflect her observations of women’s lives and the people who inhabit them: the children, husbands, parents, friends, strangers who happen by and change everything.
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