Maybe it’s just me, but publishing a book feels a little bit like getting a serious groove on when you think you’re alone but people are watching. Dang. If I knew you were standing there during my unabashed booty-shake*, I’d have worked on my moves a little more.
When I wrote my first novel, I had no idea my friends and co-workers would read it one day. That is probably a good thing, because just like we should dance like nobody’s watching, I also think we should write like nobody’s reading . . .
. . . but only during the early drafts.
Later in the process, we have agents and editors to prevent us from embarrassing ourselves and help us shine.
Thing is, I don’t like my agent or editor to see my early drafts. I don’t like to publicly mess up. But in the life cycle of a book, this is required. So I have a few close writing friends who look over pages before I do the literary equivalent of busting a move on the dance floor with toilet paper stuck to my shoe.
Their job is to tell me which parts are humming and which parts I should cut and delete off my hard drive so they can never be traced back to me.
Rules of engagement go something like this.
1. Must be frank.
Recently, I got a note in one scene that just said: Huh??
Enough said. Thank you, it’s fixed now.
2. Must tell me when I use the wrong word.
You were right. A voice “crackles” on a speaker, it doesn’t “cackle.” Thank you for preventing me from being exposed as the imposter I am.
3. Must call Bullsh!t on me when I handwave around an ill-conceived plot point.
Perhaps I’m inherently lazy or just hopeful nobody will notice, but my friends always do. A good reader will tell you it doesn’t make sense and spare you from hearing it from an editor, who I promise will always notice.
4. Must wield a pen like a machete.
There’s a prevailing notion that getting copy back with a lot of red ink (or tracked changes) is a negative thing, but I love it. When this happens, a reader isn’t trying to re-write your stuff so much as suggest an alternate way to present it. I usually like the new way better and almost always use it, sometimes shamelessly ripping off a line and passing it off as my own. Before you judge me, my friend David says there’s no such thing as plagiarism between friends*. He calls it an homage, which sounds so, so much better.
My editor likes to see the first 100 pages of a new story before I get too far along with the book. It’ll be a while before that happens, because right now my fave writing buds, Bill Tate and David Hansard, are off employing rules 1-4, helping me make sure I don’t go out on the dance floor looking like Elaine.
Writing is solitary sometimes. Other times, it’s a tremendous team effort. This post is a virtual hug to Bill and Dave, who are reading for me now, and to Laura Weber and Nikki Bonanni, who read for me earlier and helped me get this story off the ground.
Thanks to you all, maybe next year I’ll be rockin’.
*Clips are more fun in foreign languages, don’t you think?
**When employing the homage approach, it’s good to have reader friends who won’t sue you. Good luck.