I got past my reader’s block in July and quickly moved into the next phase: editor’s block. In this phase I stared at my 99,000 word manuscript and tried to figure out how to eat the editing elephant. I would scribble word changes and deletions because I didn’t know what else to do. I paid good money to learn how to write a query letter and sent my first 10 pages to an agent. (This was through Writer’s Digest and I thought it provided great insight into the publishing process. If you are almost done with editing and want to try conventional publishing this is a great resource.) My assigned agent, Mary C. Moore, gave me some good tactical advice: vary my sentence structure; keep prose active; don’t over explain smaller actions of characters; be aware of slow pace; and, most importantly, “Keep going with this, you are on the right track!”
Armed with things to do, I made a goal to finish editing by Christmas. I only needed to edit 3 pages a day. Time passed and I didn’t edit so the goal became 5 pages per day. Time passed and I realized I had no idea what I was doing. It was like I had a plan to swim the
English Channel. All I needed to do was swim an additional 100 meters every day but I didn’t know any strokes, didn’t have a swimsuit, and couldn’t identify water. Despondent about my book progress and a host of other things I turned to my family therapist. She told me to do two things: come out of my writing closet and find a writing group. I’ve talked with other bloggers about writing groups, and while not enthused about the idea, I felt like I needed to find some experienced writing peeps to help me. Minutes into my Google search I found Lighthouse Writers, a local “community for writers and readers.” I joined, and then on a whim physically visited their space. This wonderful woman stopped what she was doing, and joyfully took me on a tour of the amazing historic mansion that houses their program. Lucky me, a four week session was just starting, and in it was a class called The Big Edit which promised to “turn the amorphous process of cleaning up your draft into a manageable practice.” Gasp! Of course it was full, so I got on the wait list.
Providence does not put all these magical pieces in place just to snatch them away, so four days before the start of class a space opened. Eleanor Brown, the author of the New York Times bestseller The Weird Sisters is the teacher and in the first fifteen minutes she laid out a process that made total sense. She explained how we would edit in at least four passes. We’d start with the Big Picture, move to Characters, then to Pacing and end with Copy and Line Editing. (This means that I don’t have to worry about commas until the very last editing pass. Hip hip hooray!) This process isn’t quick, but I am okay with that. I’ve spent years on this book. I can invest another year so long as I’m moving forward.
Not only has she given me a process to follow that makes total sense, but she’s also promised to help us discover our strengths and weaknesses as writers. Through the class we’ll understand if we are good at theme, story, character, or pacing. She’ll give us tips for adding editing passes for things like dialogue, humor, flashbacks or description that will help address weaknesses. We will make a plan which allows us to stay focused and organized while developing a feeling of progress the same way we felt progress when writing. We even have homework! (I’m excited by this even though anyone who experienced my school days knows I hate homework!) Here’s a picture of my first completed assignment: developing a theme card that I can hang above my writing space to remind me what my book is about.
In 2015 I came up with a list of nine things I needed to do to get my book published. I’m still on step 2, having vastly underestimated the scope of the editing step. But I have a plan now and cannot tell you how amazing that feels. I have book hope for the first time in ages. There is work to do, and I know what that work is. I finally agree with Ms. Moore’s statement, “Keep going with this, you are on the right track!” Time to get to it. I’ve still got more homework.