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What We Keep

Just a Few Suggestions: A Post in Praise of Editors

 

My normal approach to revising a manuscript:

 

     Read editor's notes. They are lengthy.

     Stomp about swearing and listing the many ways the editor is Wrong.

     Read notes again.

     Decide that maybe a third of them are sort of reasonable and I can do those.

     Begin at beginning of notes, as that is the easiest way.

     Decide that more than I had thought are sensible, and a couple are brilliant.

     Find four to stand my ground on.

     Decide that maybe I should do one of those too, because it's not half bad.

     Decide that it's not half good either and I will revisit it.

     Write cogent summary in defense of not doing the other three.

     The fourth one now somehow looks much more intelligent than it did.

     Do that one too.

     Admire the difference all this has made to a previously lumpy manuscript.

     Decide that I am adamant on the last three.

     Send it all off and have a drink.

 

     All of which is to say that a good editor is a godsend, and should be rewarded in heaven with the pleasure of removing the extra apostrophes in all those damn Christmas cards from the Baxter's.

     If you are a writer, you know the value of a good editor, or you should. No one is the best eye on their own work. I have read too many self-published books lately that prove that, clogging an otherwise good novel with clunky syntax, erroneous word choice, and characters who vanish for no reason halfway through the book. Writers who get too famous for their own britches also do themselves no favors by deciding that they are too good to need an editor. I've read a bunch of those too.

     So this is my Christmas carol in praise of editors, having just completed the above process for a book that will be out this spring. Thank you, Kit Nevile of Canelo, long may you inhabit the right hand Markup column.

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It seemed like a good idea at the time...

"Are you sure about this?"

 

I think there may be an arm of fate or a discerning muse who, if a writer has been Good, will keep her from certain cliffs. Both my new books are sequels, of a sort, and were intended to have been written years ago, but set aside for various reasons. When I had the opportunity to finish them, I found that large chunks of both old plotlines were trite, implausible, and in one case historically impossible. I am grateful to whatever anti-muse kept me from writing them as-is all those years ago.

    

I had to re-read the previous books, of course, and did so with some trepidation, but apparently I was more restrained in those, or possibly had a good editor who said, "Good grief, think again," or words to that effect. For whatever reason, the old ones seemed to me to hold up, although I did want to make the kind of marginal notes that I am in the habit of jotting down for writing students. You know the kind of thing: "Stilted dialog."  "Overused analogy."  "Can you find a fresher image?"  "This sentence has escaped you entirely."

 

One thing this new venture into old projects has taught me is this: Never throw away that manuscript that no one wanted. You never know when someone will, and if there are excellent reasons why no one wanted it, you will most likely see them now and do something about that. I can't remember how often I thought about tossing those, clogging up the basement shelves in those wonderful sturdy cardboard boxes that typing paper used to come in, just right for a manuscript. I think maybe it was the boxes I didn't want to part with. You can't get them now and I guard my small hoard of them. So here's to the muse that put them on the shelf for my own good, and the goddess of office supplies who whispered in my ear, "You may want those boxes."

 

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In the garden

At the end of another summer term at Hollins, I am always sad to see the Children's Literature students and faculty leave, but light of heart that now I can get into the garden or the flea market or whatever else has been calling my name over the last six weeks. But it was a fine summer. We had the usual student/faculty potluck gatherings at our house, with fireworks left over from a rained out Fourth, and the summer campers from Hollinsummer’s pre-college creative writing program. One of my tutorial students left me a bumper sticker that reads LIVE. LAUGH. LOVE. REVISE. HOLLINS MA/MFA CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, appropriate since we had spent the whole semester doing just that with their thesis novels. They were one of the best classes I’ve ever traught and I don’t say that lightly.

Back in the garden I am struck by how much time I spend trying to get things to grow.

The lilies of the Nile that I planted last fall and can’t remember where I put. Is that them, over by the poppies? And if it’s not, what is it? And for that matter, what is that thing by the clothesline?

My hair, which has reached an odd length. And an odd color as I try to get rid of the last of the natural herb-based dye whose only drawback was that it turned red in sunlight.

A novel manuscript, which instead seems to be shrinking. Every time I go at it, it shyly sheds another 10 pages. Soon it will be a short story.

How very satisfactory to see students grow. Personally they look just like they did when they got here, but their manuscripts – ah, those have expanded and solidified and acquired a whole new look. Read More 
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