Thursday, March 1, 2012

One Last Chance to Make It Right

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell." (William Strunk)

I got the pages for my next Shaker novel, The Gifted, dropped at my front door yesterday. I wrote the book months ago and sent it in to the acquiring editor. Then I had to sit on pins and needles a few weeks until she had time to read it and say, "Yes, the story works." Or words to that effect along with some "but you need to fix this or that" suggestions. Once those edits were done, the book headed on to the next editor in the publishing company. 

This second editor read through the book, caught more problems with the way I told the story, discovered my pet words. I seem to have some in every book. I run through a variety of them. Just. Still. Of course. Comfort words for me. Words that help me transition my thinking while I'm writing, but words that can be repetitious and often unnecessary when noted with an editorial eye. Here, with the galleys, I could fix things, rewrite things, make the story better after the discerning eyes of the copy-editor spotted weaknesses. I could also fix the things my own editing eye was able to see after a few months away from the story. 

Now, I have the pages - the stack in the photo above. At this stage of the editing process, I can't do major rewrites. I shouldn't need to do major rewrites. But if I did go crazy with my red pen, it wouldn't be good because edits and corrections are harder to make once the editorial process has gotten this far along. With the pages, I got a list of queries from the editor. Things are noted that both of us missed in the first few go-arounds. Proofreaders have read the book and their sharp eyes have noted a few mistakes here and there and have questioned this or that. Things still need fixing. I need to make every word right. 

Perfection is rarely possible. At least for me. There's always something with each reading of any of my books that I think might be worded better or presented in a fresher way. This book will be no different. But I will read through it. I will pay attention to the suggested improvements. I'll tweak a word here and there. I'll do my very best to write the story so that when you, the reader, opens it up and begins to read that the words will disappear and the story will play out in your imagination - not as words but as images. 

That's why writers edit and polish and try to make every word tell as William Strunk advises in the quote above. Words can be beautiful. The way they're put together can thrill the mind. And they can tell a story. That's all I'm trying to do - tell a story. And so, I'll read through these pages and do my best to make my words sing so that my readers will be carried away by the melody. Not perfect, but the best I can do with the help of my editor friends.

What things pull you out of a story when you're reading? Have you noted editing or writing mistakes in the books you've read?
On another note, all the entries are in for my Louisville contest to celebrate Words Spoken True. The blog tour for the book was last week and reviews are popping up all over the net. I'll be using to draw for the winners later today. I'll let everybody know either in a newsletter or with a special post here. 

Sunday, I'll have a special guest here on One Writer's Journal. Well known and popular author, Lyn Cote, will be sharing about her books and why she started writing about the Quakers. She'll also be offering a free download of one of her books, so come back on Sunday to see what Lyn has to say. 

Thanks for reading. Now if I can keep from sneezing long enough - I've caught a nasty cold - I'll get to work on those pages.


  1. When I get frustrated and want perfection (it never happens) my Dad always reminds me: The Indians always weave a mistake into thier designes - that is so that bad/evil spirits can escape. It gives me a good perspective on always trying to have everything right or perfect.

  2. Love that story, Belinda. In my life, I've given a lot of bad or evil spirits an escape route since I've made a lot of mistakes. Not in weaving, however. I also like the story about the weaver who does make a mistake and then the master weaver shows how to incorporate it into the pattern. That's us. Making mistakes and letting the Master show us how we can move on from that and live better.

  3. Errors in logic stop my reading. And historical errors on big, easy to research facts, like when North Dakota became a state, will make me put the book down. I can forgive obscure mistakes and proof-reading errors, but I hope I don't have any in my books.
    Thanks for your attention to detail and "getting it right", Ann! Reading your books is a pleasure!

  4. Cathy, I can go along with your reasons. I get really irritated when characters do stupid things just to keep the story rolling that I know they wouldn't have done. That's not to say real people don't do that all the time, but that's why truth is stranger than fiction. In fiction it has be believable. :o)

    And I hate it too when mistakes show up in my books. There were printing errors that left out a whole section in my book, The Seeker. Totally out of my control, but I still hate it.

  5. Ann, Love this post - and those pages at top:) I'm right behind you and should see mine soon. But I always cringe a bit as I read through things before print, praying there are few errors. One historical I recently read had pages that looked to be sewn in sideways! Not sure what happened there. You're so right, we need to keep perfection in perspective. Praying for you as you go through those pages - and that you come out smiling! Me, too:)

  6. I've been thinking along these lines last night and this morning. Yesterday I read a tiny snip of one of my favorite author's writing, taken from her WIP. Even lifted out of the book with no emotional context, I was swept away in a matter of a sentence or two by her fresh and sparkling prose. It made me eager to go back to my latest scene and find those places I got lazy and relied too much on my worn comfort phrases and words and dig deeper for something fresh. Great post!

  7. Hi Laura. Thanks for the good wishes. I'm having a time line issue and not sure if it's Monday or Tuesday or when. Trying to get all my days in a row. LOL. And at least if the pages were sewn in sideways, I'd know it wasn't MY mistake. That's all I can worry about fixing - my mess-ups - like not knowing what day it is.

    Good luck with your pages. I know everybody is eager for another great Laura Frantz book.

  8. Hi, Lori. Thanks so much for your comment. I hope your writing is going well and I'm sure you'll have your words sparkling too after some polishing. The trick is to know when to stop polishing before you make everything dull.

  9. I'm just finishing up Words Spoken True, which is the first book of yours I've read. I don't know how I've never come across your name or your books before. I wanted to tell you that I really enjoy your style of writing. I'm a pretty picky reader and have a hard time finding a "new to me" author I like so much. This post was encouraging... in that it's nice to know that no author is alone in receiving the never-ending criticism of others (whether it be critters, readers or editors). It sounds like no matter how many books one has published, it's just something we have to learn to accept and live with.

  10. Hey, Dawn. Thanks so much for giving my new book a read. I hope if you decide to read any of my other books, you'll like those stories too although they will be different type stories.

    I guess none of us can escape a little criticism now and again, but with editors, I always believe it's intended as helpful criticism. We can all improve our work and fresh eyes sometimes show us how to do that.


Thanks for joining the conversation. I like hearing what you have to say. Thanks for dropping by.