Back in June I blogged about going to see my BFF Neil Gaiman speak and his message to new writers. Like many other established authors out there, his suggestion was to finish something, then get it out there. Since that day I have finished a first draft of a short story and my first novel. While waiting for my novel age, I have been working on nine tasks to get me ready for the effort of creating a second draft of my novel then finding an agent and publisher. One of those tasks was to polish my short story, The Fisherman, and get it out there. Well, I actually said “see how I feel about getting it out there,” but honestly, I feel pretty darn good. It is out there. Monday night I corrected my last few inconsistencies, paid my $15 and hit submit. My story is now officially in the Glimmer Train Press “Short-Story Award For New Writers.” Can I get a hallelujah?!? I’ll find out by November 1st if I win or not. Time for more waiting.
I’m really, really glad I submit The Fisherman before tackling the editing process on my novel. My story was SHORT (1241 words) and my novel is LONG (98,942 words). Editing my short story was a gut wrenching crabby weekend of work. If I edit my novel at the same rate I’m going to be crabby for 80 days! (At one point this weekend I remembered another message from Neil Gaiman where he said people think that writing is ethereal but really it’s wandering around grouchy in a bathrobe. Yep, he was talking second drafts, I’m sure.) However, I learned some great stuff that I think will make editing the novel easier now that this effort is under my belt:
- I need a reader who believes in me, loves my work, and will remind me why I’m doing this when the bathrobe lady takes over and wants to hide in the basement burning my novel. I’m lucky enough to have two of those readers. One of them is my mom who also happens to be my ideal reader and my first editor. The other one is a dear friend who makes time to encourage me even while she’s living her own crazy life. Having that really honest joyful reassurance is so important. Find that person. Buy them presents. Nurture them because you are going to need them.
- I need a reader who is pragmatic and good at the rules of grammar. My husband had to read my story twice this weekend. The first time he agreed with my mom, “Yeah, you’ve got a lot of ‘ands’ in this story” and the second time he found two inconsistencies that were nit-picky but the difference between a kind-of-final draft and a final draft. Having someone who will know if your prepositions don’t match is awesome. He never gushed about my story, but that’s okay. Other people handled the gushing.
- I need a plan. If the story doesn’t make Glimmer Train, that’s okay. The deadline for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story competition is November 16th. That’s where The Fisherman is going next if it doesn’t find a home at Glimmer Train.
- I need a deadline. Once I found my competition and realized it was due 8/31 I got motivated. I couldn’t hang out in the bathrobe too long. I’m hoping that I can make deadlines for my novel that mean something to me and keep me motivated. Otherwise I might have to find some weird novel competition. (Hopefully this means I’ll be good with deadlines if and when someone else ever cares about my stuff getting published.)
Those things are all great, but I also learned one really big writing lesson. A game changer of a lesson. I am chickenshit. Once my mom and Mr. Afthead pointed out all the “ands” in my story I realized what I was doing. I was making the reader do the work. Description after description read,
“When the sun is low and the puffy cloud-filled sky is painted pink, purple and orange, and the shadows are deep enough to hide details of faces and bodies, the door will open and he will slip out to join the families on the banks of the river with his rod and reel.” – 4 “ands” in one sentence
I had 69 ands in my first draft. Let’s pause and consider 69 of 1241 words were AND: almost 6%. Ugh. I cut that down to 31 through updates like,
“The sun must be low in a sky filled with orange puffy clouds. The shadows must be deep enough to hide the details of face and body. When the conditions are right he will slip out to join the families on the banks of the river with his fishing rod.” – 1 “and” in 3 sentences
What’s the difference between the first and second versions. Lots of stuff, but in my mind the difference is that in the first version I am paranoid that the reader won’t see what I want them to see. So I paint a very detailed picture in a very complex sentence. I give them a magnifying glass and some paint of their own – in case they don’t like what they see – and a guided tour of the picture complete with one of those narration phones you get at a museum. In the second version I am brave. I assume the reader has their imagination on and can paint their own picture in their mind and we can move on together. Are their orange puffy clouds the same as mine? Do they really understand the conditions? That is scary, but my favorite part of the story is the magic, but through over-describing (The child is excited and terrified. The dad is teary-eyed and proud.) I was losing the magic.
Thank goodness by nature I’m a taker-outter and not a putter-inner, so the edits weren’t hard once I knew what they were. I honestly believe that every reader has “better things to do” than read a book. They have bills to pay and mother’s to call and a house to clean and kids to bathe and endless ands to stick into their writing. If I make them work too hard they will leave. If I tell them exactly what they need to know, and maybe a little less, they will keep reading because they can’t stop. They will paint their picture in their head and want to know how it turns out. I want my stories to beg to be read, but if they are tedious because I am scared they won’t get read. So watch out novel! I’m coming to you and I am brave and ready to chop you down to size. I’m bringing my cheerleader readers and my nitpicker with me too. We are a fierce team and taking on new members if you want to join us.
Only 59 days until I find out if I won the competition or not. 23 days until I can read my novel. Tick Tick.