Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Confessions of a Mad Rewriter

I am a compulsive re-writer. If there were a twelve step program for re-writing addicts, my family would be bundling me into the car and dropping me off there in the hope I’d come to grips with my affliction.

I, on the other hand, would bolt out of there like a neat-freak bat out of a messy, messy hell. Or, more accurately, into the messy, messy hell of the post-ARC, post re-re-rewritten , post re-re-re-reread and re-re-re-re-edited, slightly dog-eared hard copy of Where It Began. With the fantasy of making it perfect before I have to push the send button on what has to be the final, final, final, final, final, final edit.

At this point, it is no longer possible to edit away deep, existential doubts. Things like: Does this book lack a moral center, jaunty pacing, and a sufficiently hot yet articulate boyfriend? And is the protagonist, whom I adore, too whiney and if so, why in God’s name didn’t I notice this before?

Too late, babe.

This is the time for what might be considered less critical flaws that can still be fixed if only I could find them all.

This is when I notice, on the seventh post-post ARC redo, that there are two minor characters named Caitlyn who appear and disappear within five pages of each other and I’d better name one of them something else. Something else perfect that doesn’t start with a “C.” Olivia or Becca? Becca or Olivia? Olivia or Becca? (There is where the twelve step could be useful.) When I realize that there is one niggling spot where Gabby refers to the messaging that’s central to the book as IM when it hasn’t been IM for several drafts. When it hits me that the word “just” is spelled with a “j.” (Don’t ask. Oh, all right, it’s because my scrawled handwriting lead S&S to believe that I insisted that it be spelled differently, and I’ve been so unreasonable about quirky details that it made sense to them that I’d do that.)

It’s not that I haven’t had the gift of a completely fabulous copy editor who found literally hundreds of places where I’d screwed up pre-ARC. She was the one who pointed out that my use of the hyphen (or rather, my failure to use the hyphen) was inconsistent with all legitimate grammar authorities on the face of the earth, and that there’s no apostrophe in “Starbucks.” Even though I had rewritten and done what I thought of as copy-editing myself, over and over, before the manuscript made its way to her desk. (And even when confronted with every grammar authority on the face of the earth, I still spent days going: Midnight blue? Midnight-blue? Midnight blue? Midnight-blue?!?!?!? )

But this is it. The time has come. And even though I haven’t yet figured out why each compulsive re-read yields yet another small but critical thing I failed to notice ever before, I have to be finished. I will no longer be able to hide behind the veil of the uncorrected proof, the mistakes don’t count, it isn’t final, and all is forgiven not-final draft.

Maybe this is therapeutic. Maybe this is premature. Maybe this is folly. Maybe the book was better before I made these final changes. Maybe I should change them back. Maybe I should find out if there are any psycho-active (note the hyphen) drugs for this kind of thing. Maybe I should just shut up and push the send button.

Here goes.


  1. I do have a problem with becoming almost fixated on the errors I discover in my book with each revision, and there are times I have to step away or I'll just toss the whole thing into the trash. :)

  2. I'm there. The problem with deadlines is this sense that if you step away, you're losing your last opportunity to find some hideous flaw that you'll otherwise miss. At that point, the throwing in the trash option looks increasingly attractive.

  3. That hair tells me you are having too much fun, girl.

    Another great post.

  4. Read it aloud with a partner, chapter by chapter. There's no substitute.

  5. Chance, I am a huge believer in reading aloud. Cheers to that. And Mirka, sadly, that is the hair I wake up with. Flat irons take a look at my head and short out in horror.