New Tricks

Wednesday, April 06, 2022
Libby has lots of tricks.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, right? But you might be able to teach her a lesson. 

As you can probably guess, I’m the old dog here, and I had the most brilliant idea ever when working on my latest manuscript. A new trick, if you will, that I thought would save me hours and hours and hours of revision on that completed first draft of a novel. 

To wit, I would spend the first bit of my writing time editing the prior day’s work. In numbers, I’d probably edit around 1,000 words, and then write another 1,000 new words each session. Bottom line, I wrote a 75,000 word novel in less than six months, and honestly, I was beside myself! Because I thought I’d mostly finished that novel as I was writing it. I’d used a new trick (for me) and it had worked fabulously! 

Until I went back to my manuscript for a quick read-through to clean up anything teeny-tiny that had slipped through the editing cracks. And here’s what I found: 

*I’d changed the voice of one of the main characters about a third of the way in so that she’d be a bit more sophisticated and different from one of the other main characters. 

 *And this same character provided conflict which apparently came out of the blue. Yep, in the beginning, I hadn’t provided enough tension or reason for the conflict.

*I had another character change jobs (but in the same profession) also out of the blue. In fact, I had several characters playing fast and loose with their backgrounds. 

And I’m only up to Chapter 7. 

Those are not teeny-tiny fixes, y’all. Those are the kinds of editing situations--dialogue, narrative, details--that require serious thinking and rewriting, not to mention fuming and fussing at the laptop where the hitherto sparkly manuscript resided. 

But I promised you a lesson and here it is: There are no shortcuts when it comes to producing good writing. Or put another way, beware of a new writing trick. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of excellent writing tips and advice out there, and many that are time savers. But sometimes, the tried and true methods work best. And when it comes to novel writing, there’s no getting around the need for a time-intensive whole-novel edit. And that’s before sending it off for a professional edit if one goes that route. 

Or maybe that’s a personalized Cathy C. Hall lesson that had to be learned; perhaps that’s the kind of writer I am. Because as I was plowing through my second chapter and cutting and rewriting and pulling my hair, I thought of the novels I’d read where I’d seen mistakes, some big and others teeny-tiny, that hadn’t been corrected. It’s not that the story changes drastically—in fact, the story can often stand as is and make fine sense—but the writing is not as good as it could be. 

Anyway, my first draft is much better than my usual first drafts so my editing-while-writing wasn’t a complete waste of effort. But for this old dog, I’ll take the time to make the writing the best it can be. And if you hear howling coming from my office, don’t blame Libby Hall.


Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Sigh. There really are no shortcuts. Too bad for us, eh?

I can see why you want to go through and find the unexpected changes that you need to fix. NEED TO FIX. Because if there are too many strange shifts, readers may quit reading. And if they finish this manuscript, they may not look for another.

Cathy C. Hall said...

So true, Sue. But the good news is, as the chapters progress, the errors are fewer and far between--Yay!

Sioux Roslawski said...


Libby--I imagine--has some shortcuts to share.

A shortcut to recharge your battery after a long walk or a game of fetch? Take a nap. A shortcut to getting a treat when you want it? Sit up and beg. A shortcut to get some love? Look at your people with sad, brown eyes.

What does Tom Hanks say in "A League of Their Own" (or perhaps it's in another movie/book)? It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everybody would be doing it.

It's hard, but oh, is it exciting when it goes from a pile of poop to a semi-precious gem.

Renee Roberson said...

Don't you love the post manuscript glow we all feel once we've finished that first draft? And then you set it aside for a bit, go back to it, and wham. I was about halfway through my NaNoWriMo novel revisions when I realized I wanted to change the family dynamics of the four central characters, two different sets of sisters. I now want to make them more ethnically diverse, to mirror some things I've experienced in my own family. Like you said, that's not an easy fix, because it affects physical descriptions, names, the family tree, and socioeconomic issues. I believe the book will be stronger for it, but revisions are going to be a special type of Hades. I'll be howling right along with you! Your manuscript will shine once this is over!

Angela Mackintosh said...

It sounds like you had a good plan with 1k writing and 1k editing, and 75k in six months is amazing! Bummer there are no shortcuts. I think our drafts need multiple edits in stages while paying attention to one aspect at a time: story arc, character, pace and tension, technical edit, etc. Even in my short essays I've had editors tell me, this is not what your narrator would do here, and I'm like, but that's what I did and I'm writing nonfiction, but even in nonfiction, we have to check for consistency in characters, voice, and more, to make it believable.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top