Fiction writing, avoiding the pitfalls, Writing. Whatever it takes.

Letting your manuscript go

When you’ve read all four-hundred-thirty-seven pages for the ninety-ninth time and sit back with a sigh of satisfaction and say, “Damn, I’m good!” you’re probably ready to send your work away to an editor or an agent. There is never a better time to send it out… except when there isn’t.

I know because I’ve enjoyed such a moment more times than I care to say. That’s when I want to print it for the final time to make it all clean and shiny, pull some elastic bands around it and slide it, gently, tenderly, into a big padded envelope with a cleverly written cover letter, and send it off into the world.

Then, I remember how cruel that world is. “Oh, no,” I say, patting it and setting it aside. “You’re not ready yet, sweet baby.”

I  click CTRL+Home to take the file back to page one, or take off the elastics, turn my stack of paper over, set it down and start reading again. Just in case. “Maybe it’s not as good as I think it is.  Maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was five minutes ago.” Sadly, I’m probably right.

That’s when, if I’m working on an MS Word file (which nowadays is pretty much the only way I work), I run a global search for words ending in “ly”—like gently, tenderly, cleverly. And make a good stab at eliminating them wherever possible and practical. Please remember that word. Practical.

“Only, easily, truly, and certainly,” are words most readers glide over without noticing so I only look at them and make a quick decision about whether to chop them or leave them if deleting or changing them would make the sentence awkward. Above, when I wrote about “gently, tenderly” sliding my manuscript into a bag, it would have been just as effective to say “I ease” it into a bag. My cover letter could have been described as just as well by writing, my cover letter because of course, I would have written a clever one. After all, I’m a writer.

If, before this moment I have neglected to do so, I also do a global search for the word “that” which is most often nothing more than padding and can be removed. This is especially true if I’ve written something like “the man that stood on the corner was waiting for a bus,” I’d have been accused of bad writing on two counts. One, because it’s an inactive sentence, and two, because people are who and animals are that. To correct the statement, I would write, “The man who stood…” It would have been preferable to write, “The man on the corner stood waiting for a bus,” or “The man stood on the corner waiting for a bus.” Simple solutions, both.

If I feel I might have overused any word—I do have my favorites—I go through and search them out. “Know” is one. “Slow,” is another as is “deep. It is those global searches for problem words I, and you, should have done long before the final read and the wonderful “Damn, I’m good!” moment. Once we’ve completed them, done everything possible to make our manuscript the best it can be; when astute people have proofread it for typos, grammar, spelling, punctuation and plot holes; when we’ve repaired all the bloopers brought to our attention, it is time to submit it. If we don’t, as writers have the courage to put our work out there, we’re in danger of shoving it into a box under the bed where it will languish. At that point, we have to let it go and send it out into the world to fly to the sky or sink into the Mariana Trench. (Or simply float along gently on the surface of the world where once in a while some reader will trip on it, pick it up, enjoy it, and let you know. There is satisfaction there too.) Not every book is destined to be a bestseller.

Still, that “Damn, I’m good!” uplift in spirits, the feeling of intense satisfaction must not be ignored. The best time to send a book away for the professional assessment of a publishing house or literary agency is when you’re on a real emotional high. That’s about the easiest time to let it go. It’s also the time to anchor your thoughts on the next book, the one poking holes in your brain, insisting it needs your attention, demanding you write it. Now.

Celebrate your great feelings about your work as I hope you celebrate this festive season the way you prefer. I also hope your career will grow as swiftly as my amaryllis blossoms which, three weeks ago, were mere sprouts poking out of the bulbs. Write well and daily throughout 2020! Be a flowering amaryllis.

Book Reviews from Rider of The Waves, Living life as it comes, What writing's all about

Reviews #13 & 14 of 30 for 2017 Kena the Good Hyena / Kena la hiena buena, Books 1 & 2, by Gabriela Arellano

I’m delighted to feature these two bilingual children’s picture books, KENA THE GOOD HYENA / KENA LA HIENA BUENO.Kena Hyena

Similar in tone to the ever popular Berenstain Bears books, Books 1, Being The Best, shows how good behavior can make any child’s life run smoother, and that being selfish and boastful can lead to unhappiness at school.

The second book, When Dad’s Away, illustrates the way a child mKena 2ight feel abandoned and unloved when Dad has to go far away to work. But it also reassures the child that distance is no barrier to love.

But, more important to me, as a writer, is that the author has aimed her work at young children and their parents of two different linguistic groups. During my years in Costa Rica I was struck (unfavorably) by the small number of people of all ages I saw reading for pleasure. On buses, on park benches, on beaches, it seemed few read anything but school texts or newspapers. Even large bookstores featured little fiction—especially for children. This may not be the case in other Spanish speaking countries, but to find a book like this is a real pleasure regardless of where it might be read and enjoyed because not only does it encourage adults to read to their children, it will surely help English speakers learn Spanish, and perhaps vice versa. Though in my experience it was the “Gringos” (myself included) who needed to learn, far more than the “Ticos.”

Living the Writing Life, What writing's all about

Questions about anatomy

I’m currently reading a book whose title I will not reveal by an author who will also go unnamed. This book has given me an entirely different take on human anatomy.

Vertebrae Anatomy With Ciculatory System

For instance, a man (who was standing upright)  felt sweat well in his armpits then run down the trough of his spine to pool at the small of his back. That got me thinking. If sweat welled in my armpits, assuming it was going to be so extensive as to flow, I can only envision it running down my sides. This may be due to my being female. I do know men are built differently from women but is the difference so great? I can see this maybe happening if the man were lying on his back on a non-porous surface, like a plastic sheet on a level floor, but I’m firmly convinced all that liquid from his pits would somehow have to navigate uphill over some muscle ridges on his back prior to reaching “the trough” of his spine and continue its journey to pool at the small of his back.

A second anatomical anomaly had me seriously doubting my anatomy and physiology professors. In a scene, the man ran his hand over the woman’s belly button and her navel. Then, as the scene heated up, he kissed her belly button and her navel. I’ve always thought the two terms “belly button” and “navel” were interchangeable, but apparently not because the woman in question has one of each. At least one of each. I’m not finished the book and I agreed to review it, so I feel morally obliged to continue to the end. I may learn she has something else there in the middle of her abdominal plane.

Another one, not in the book I’m currently reading, but in one some time ago had a man lift the woman’s long, heavy locks, kiss the nape of her neck and her eyelids. Oh, right, maybe she was an alien and had her eyelids on her nape, but I didn’t get that impression from the rest of the novel.

This brings me to another concern: The use of unnecessary words. “The nape of her neck.” What other body part has a nape? Go ahead, tell me and I’ll shut up on the subject. Would we ever feel compelled to refer to “the eyebrows on her forehead”? I don’t think so, because that’s the only place humans have eyebrows. And what about people who shrug their shoulders? What else is actually shrugged by the vast majority of people? I’ve been known to write that a character shrugged one shoulder to suggest even less caring than shrugging two, but it’s still a shoulder that got shrugged. So when I want a character to shrug both, I just write “he shrugged,” and expect everyone to understand and form a mental image of two shoulders approaching ears then dropping. I’m also accustomed to reading about a character who “thinks to himself.” Hmm? Who else would he think to, I ask you, unless he’s a telepath capable of thinking to someone else?

But imagine the possibilities! If my belly button was an outie and I wanted an innie, I could have a plastic surgeon simply remove the belly button and replace it with the much neater navel. Or vice versa.Putting eyebrows on my kneecaps, letting them grow long and bushy, would certainly be helpful in protecting my patellae when kneeling to weed the garden. Wouldn’t it be cool to be telepathic and extremely handy to have eyes that could see behind? When I was raising children, they did believe I had eyes in the back of my head, but if I  could hide an extra pair of peepers behind a long fall of hair, I think I’d become a spy or a highly paid private detective. When I wanted to see if someone was following me, no more of this glancing into a conveniently placed plate-glass window and checking out the reflection of what was behind me. I’d simply toss my head, or sensuously flip my hair for a moment, or shrug one shoulder to displace a couple of locks so I could steal a glimpse to the rear. Then if someone was tailing me, I’d think to my partner about needing back-up, fast! Oh! The possibilities this would open up! The FBI would love (or hate) me. The CIA would hire (or shoot) me. The KGB… no, wait, they’ve been replaced.

But those are thoughts for another day. I still have to finish that book about the woman with both a belly button and a navel, then write a review. I can’t see my way out of it going either forward or backward, nor can I just shrug it off. Oy!

Another time I may feel moved to discuss the term “She threw up her hands.” What? I don’t remember her eating them. The very thought is enough to make me, well, throw up.