Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cooking Your Book

When I wrote my first novel, I punched out my rough draft in six weeks. I worked on it six to eight hours a day before having my husband and kids run spell check on it for me. I was entering  it into a local writing competition. This first attempt was the equivalent of making baked Alaska in a toaster oven. It was a complete disaster.
My next move was to send copies to my sister, my sister-in law, and my mother for suggestions.
Better...but now I'm doing Cherries flambe with rocket fuel. My sister-in-law told me my husband dropped the ball on spell check, my sister told me it was brilliant, and my mother told me it was too slow. I of course, didn't listen to my mother and pressed on.
By my next round of drafts, I was confident I had a best-seller I just needed a sighted person to fix the problems I couldn't "See" and I'd be turning down publishing offers. This time I asked an editor friend of mine to take on the edits in exchange for my husband helping her husband re-roof their house. Super plan! Now I'm making meringue with sour milk and a plastic fork. I warned my friend the story was probably over written, but could she help me make it better. I was expecting a gushing review along with a few suggestions about grammar and formatting. The manuscript was so bad she couldn't even get through the first chapter. Her advice "Toss it and start over."

Now...It's Four years, a published debut novel and a million revisions and edits later. Unfortunately,  My first manuscript is on its twelfth version, not even close to being finished and always at risk of being tossed out. My current novel has been critiqued, proof read, and edited  too many times to count. So I had to ask my self; How much is too much and what lack of editing will leave a manuscript as flat as a half baked cake?
Here's what I found.
Through researching a few blog posts, websites, and editor friends the following is a break down of the three most basic levels of editing:
• Content editing – also called developmental, substantive, or structural editing; revising; rewriting

• Revising or moving entire paragraphs or sentences
• Adding new material to fill in gaps and deleting original material that doesn’t work
• Re-organizing and restructuring content to improve flow and clarity
 -Copyediting – also called line, mechanical, or stylistic editing
 -Correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, and mechanics
• Checking that the content follows the appropriate style guide or internal style sheet
• Verifying facts and ensuring consistency
• Clarifying meaning and improving readability by changing word choices and sentence structure
 -Reading the final copy of the manuscript to check for errors
• Ensuring that all changes have been incorporated and that no errors have slipped in during the editing process.
You might think this sounds pretty basic but it takes years sometimes to accomplish all of this. The first few edits are usually exciting for the author. I personally feel energized to fix all of my problems and have a perfect manuscript. The problem is there are normally anywhere from 4 to 12 rounds of this type of revision. That's before you let others read and critique it. By the time you've read and reworked your masterpiece, often you'll feel as if you've got a mess in your kitchen, a black mass of bubbling catastrophe in your oven, and smeared flour and butter all over your face.
Don't get discouraged. Here are some suggestions for you.
Write hot, but revise or edit cold. Leave it alone for a while. Let the story settle before you can look at it with clear eyes. Once the smoke has receded you can find the nuggets of sweet confection admits the burning remnants of your creation.
Don't take every suggestion. If you're cleaning up mistakes in round five that someone told you to make in round 2 your remixing your ingredients with cement instead of flour. You have to be true to your voice, your characters and to the setting. If someone who loves YA action stories doesn't like your romance driven plot, it's alright. It may hurt your feelings to hear "I didn't like character x", or "I was bored by page 50", but   if you can take a honest look at the suggestion you'll be a better writer. If the critique just complains that there was too much romance and not enough exploding cars, take a look at that too, but don't burn your book trying to make it into a different novel.
Don't be afraid to write new scenes. If the master piece you imagined at the beginning of the process has gone from a towering triple layer cake to a chocolate covered luscious brownie explosion, go with it. Don't fall in love with your own voice, or your own outline to the detriment of the dessert. If your characters don't fall for each other but stay with their current flames, see where that goes. If your heroine ends up running down an alley instead of down a beach, have some fun with it. What looked good in your mind might turn out to be bitter instead of sweet if you can't throw some extra chocolate into the recipe.

There's a million other pieces of advice I've used from the blog sites listed below- K.M. Weiland
as well as-
Oct 12, 2012 -
Most importantly is have a goal for when the book will be finished and work on it until then. Then stop. and let it go out on submission. You can over cook your book too.  Invest in the final product but when it's time to get it out and present it to the world, Display your Piesta resistance.
What are your editing/revising/ helps and suggestions? Where do you go for the most current standards for editing your own work? Chime in with your resources and help me resurrect my manuscript from the scrap pile. Thanks!.


  1. Great metaphors! I can totally relate. Only now my problem is that I've thrown up my hands and left the kitchen. Now that I'm coming back in to try some new recipes, I'm a little scared that I'll blow up the oven.

    1. Don't be afraid to blow up a few desserts. I've had some fires, explosions, and kitchen catastrophe's turn out to be nuggets of brilliance. Okay small nuggets flung all over the kitchen...but still. Thanks Alyssa.

  2. I`ve discovered that you can edit and edit and edit till the cows come home, and you won`t get anything published. Since my late husband was a baseball fan, I have adapted the three strikes and you`re out rule. I read through a manuscript at least three times. If I really feel I need to go through it a fourth time, I will. Otherwise, it`s outto a publisher or magazine. This method might not be effective for everyone so to each his own.