Five years ago, I wrote a book. It was the second full-length manuscript I’d ever completed (that wasn’t fan fiction of the SVU/La Femme Nikita/Blood Ties variety), and my very first attempt at YA. In the grand scheme of things, it could’ve been much worse! I posted it on FictionPress.com, and I’m still amazed at the response it got. In fact, those comments were what really made me consider sticking with YA. Back then I didn’t know any other writers, so FP was the perfect place to start to form those bonds, while at the same time learning to take criticism. (And trust me, you have to deal with a lot of it in this industry.) The anonymity of the internet makes it much easier for people to say cruel things (I heard people say my story sucked on more than one occasion), but you’re also bound to get people who sincerely want to help you improve your story. And I learned a lot from them.
As soon as I finished writing the first draft of DON’T MAKE A SCENE, I realized it needed work. I had scenes where the characters would start off eating pancakes, and by the end they had morphed into waffles or burgers. Jeans turned into dresses in less than a paragraph. The fact that I wasn’t familiar with the layout of Milwaukee was glaringly obvious. Motivations felt forced. Some characters got too much screen time. Others didn’t get enough. People weren’t afraid to tell me what I did wrong, and I’ll forever be grateful to them. It made me keenly aware of my flaws as a writer, and now it’s much easier for me to spot them. (Like the fact that I tend to use the description ‘heard a twig snap’ a least once in every manuscript.)
The problem with editing is that it’s a daunting task. Once I finished DMAS, I found myself afraid to go back and face the problems that were staring me right in the face. And since I had other ideas brewing, I convinced myself to put off the inevitable task of editing. And I put it off some more. I wrote a few other manuscripts, learning from previous mistakes and making a whole bunch of new ones. But that’s the nature of things, I guess. You’re always learning. Whenever I had a major writing epiphany, I’d go back to DMAS and try to breathe life into an increasingly dated piece of fiction. The problem was, I was never really sure how to implement the changes I knew were needed, so more often than not, I just gave up. As much as I loved the story and its characters, I had no idea what to do with them.
A few years passed, and my writing matured. I completed a few more novels, grew older (and questionably wiser), and got a degree in Creative Writing. I had internships where I got to experience many different styles and genres, and learned a thing or two about the market. I found more time to read for fun, and studied those books to see what worked and what didn’t. I watched the trends, and stalked the deals section on Publisher’s Marketplace. Getting a job in the industry made it easier to keep tabs on things, and increased my exposure to a lot of great writing. Blogging with LTWF (now Pub Crawl) was a major help, too. Armed with some solid advice, great CPs, and a better strategy for tackling the project, I decided to make DMAS this year’s NaNoWriMo project. I didn’t finish in a month — in fact, I just wrote ‘fin’ a week ago — but when I was done, I was pretty happy with the result. It still needs some editing, but since this is currently the third or fourth draft, it’s in pretty decent shape.
Knowing there’s much less work to do with this draft is a huge relief. I cut about 15,000 words from the previous one, which leaves me with room to add what I know is still missing. I have to say, my job has definitely made me more objective toward my own work. It’s not nearly as painful to chop that scene I was so fond of, or to get rid of that character who really served no purpose. I think the longer you write, the easier it gets to trim things down. I’m a wordy writer — I know this for a fact. But knowing it means I’m able to actually do something about it. These days I print out my manuscripts and go over them with a red pen. When I’m done, it looks like I’ve bled all over the paper, but I’ve trimmed a lot of excess fat. In the end, I know my manuscript is better for it.
Editing, for me, is still a daunting task. But these days it’s one I enjoy. I like to curl up on the couch with my manuscript and a cup of cocoa and see what more I can fix. What else needs to be changed. It’s exciting to be so close to querying again, especially after the positive experience I had last round. Fingers crossed everything will be ready by February, but I’m not going to push it. Editing will take as long as it needs to before I’m ready to release it into the world. Maybe that’ll be a month, maybe it’ll be five. I don’t know. All I know is that I’m incredibly grateful for the help I’ve received in turning this manuscript into what it is now. Five years is a long time to spend tinkering with something, but when you love the characters enough, it’s not work. However long this process takes, I’m going to treasure every second.