December 16, 2012
The Night Was Poorly Lit and Tumultuous
I am what could be classified as a ‘new writer’. Aside from a two page anecdote in the humorous collection "The Darwin Awards III: Survival of the Fittest" I have never been published. I write this blog, of course, but these posts are mostly just random thoughts that eject from my head like the Oort cloud spitting out a comet. Many have come, but only a few have ever been considered wonderful.
I have a full time job, and a family, and several other interests outside of writing, but for some reason I am drawn to the art of dreaming up a fabulous story in my head, and translating those thoughts into words, and organizing them in such a way that they transport the reader to a world that is not their own.
I had this idea to write a screenplay, so I could see my story come to life, but a friend suggested I write it as a book first. He knows me well, and though I fought the idea for some time I eventually came to the same conclusion. So off I went; to write a book. I wasn't really concerned that I've read exactly zero books on how to write, or that I haven't studied English, literature, or anything remotely related to writing in almost two decades. I've read Lynne Truss' "Eats, Shoots and Leaves", insist on a single space after a full stop, and will fight to the death over the Oxford comma. That should be good enough, right?
There are many schools of thought on how to begin writing a book. There are thousands of books/websites/classes/opinionated snobs that will tell you this but in my opinion Kurt Vonnegut sums it up better than anyone else:
"You cannot edit a blank page."
So, I'm writing a novel and a trilogy of short stories and both are marching along slowly but surely. Then, I heard about the Orange Karen Anthology. Writing communities are close-knit and when one person in this community suffers they all suffer. They also all rally behind each other providing the support necessary to help people through tough times. When a friend of ours was struck by a terrible illness, and racked up ridiculous medical bills in the process, her community rallied to create an anthology with all proceeds going to help her out with the financial costs that have come with surviving.
In awe of her courage and determination, and proud of the support from her community, I was inspired to submit a story for consideration in the book. Taking a page from Mr. Vonnegut I just wrote it down. It was a story based on real-life events, and it was an emotional one to tell. I had mentioned I was writing it in a Facebook group and another group member, a friend who wrote alongside me during NaNoWriMo this year, offered her assistance with editing. I happily accepted her offer.
At first she had some reservations. The topic was very close to me and she didn't know how I would accept her feedback. But, we both plugged through those uncertainties, fears, and doubts and several versions and emotionally gut wrenching re-writes later we had a finished story to be proud of. It was exhausting, and it was completely worth it.
Jennifer Gracen was my editor and she guided me through this process gently, but with expert precision. I am beginning to think it's no accident that you can find the word "grace" in her last name and the fact that she is a compassionate mother of two beautiful children served her well on this project. From her initial suggestion to write in the third person (I stared by writing it in first person) to her final "I like how you re-worked this"; every bit of red ink on that manuscript was a learning opportunity and it would have been a tragic waste of time for both of us if I would have considered it anything less.
Jennifer’s job was to tighten my sentence structure, fix my grammar (and my god forsaken tense mix ups), suggest alternate wording, prevent orphaned or complex dialog, and otherwise tease, coax, persuade, charm, lure, sweet-talk, or cajole the right words out of me using whatever methods she felt would work best. Looking back at that first brain dump of words and comparing it with the final version you wouldn't know that it was written by the same person.
My editor made me a better writer.
I am beyond thankful for all the effort she put into this and I sincerely hope that I will get to work with her again. My only concern now is that she will read this post and notice that I have ignored a lot of what she just taught me. Don't worry, Jen, not every comet gets to be wonderful.
It is with all my heart and the utmost compassion that I extend a thank you to my dear wife. The story is more hers than it is mine and she didn't just let me write it - she gave me the strength to write it and for this I am eternally grateful.