Last week, I just thought I was done with the writing part of my animal book. Because I was purposely letting it sit for a while before looking at it again, I didn’t realize until Thursday that I had left out the back-story segment of the last story about Groucho. When I realized it, I added it. So it was actually completed on February 6, not January 31.
I spent a part of Wednesday and Thursday reading through the entire text of my animal book carefully, slowly and reworking as I went. The angst of getting the words down is past––what I call my creative vomit. All that’s left is the clean up and that’s my favorite part. I’m one of those writers who like “having written.” It is then that I turn from writer into editor. And I go over it again and again until I don’t want to make any more changes. Some people never hit that point and never “finish.” But I usually am happy with what I’ve written after four or five go-throughs. The key is to leave time between each go-through.
Some writers can’t turn off the editor while they’re writing. And you have to. When I first started writing, I didn’t have that problem because I didn’t have very good writing or editing skills. Later after several years working at a magazine where I was learning on the job, but getting paid for my writing and editing skills, I realized that I actually had become a writer and an editor.
When I was writing for the magazine, I was always on such a deadline that I didn’t have the luxury of letting the editor in me interfere with the writer. My mantra was “It doesn’t have to be perfect.” But when I was writing just for myself, I kept reverting into editor mode and not making much headway.
I am a perfectionist, and perfectionists have a much harder time. Some perfectionists never get beyond that point; they are the ones that never finish. Once I got the creative vomit image in mind–– just trying to get my writing out and down on paper––I was fine. Vomit isn’t supposed to be perfect; it needs cleaning up. And I could take my time doing it. That’s when my perfectionist side kicks in.
Leaving time between each clean-up session is important. After the big stuff––rearranging paragraphs and combining paragraphs and breaking up paragraphs, reworking and rewriting sentences, and getting rid of excess words––has been fixed, little things––double periods, strangely placed commas, repeated words, misspellings (their/there, its/it’s), and words that should’ve been Italicized––pop up.
When all of those are fixed, then it’s time for a second set of eyes to look it over. Every writer needs their work edited––especially writers who are also editors. I know editors who “know” that they don’t need editing; after all, they’re an editor. Self-editing only goes so far. The problem is that you are too close to your own work. After awhile, you just don’t see your own mistakes.
Also, setting something aside for a while let’s the sub-conscious do its work. It seems like no matter what book I’m working on, there’s something I can’t readily work out. With Crossings, it was the organization of all that research material. With The Crossings Guide, it was the formatting. With Around Florence, it was how to organize the time after the building of the Siuslaw River Bridge. And with the animals book it was how to use illustrations and/or photographs and if using both how to make it work.
In each case, I let it simmer on the back burner for several weeks before it came to me. On this latest book about the animals, I woke up one morning this past week and knew exactly how to make it work by using both illustrations and photographs. I am excited that I figured it out, and that I can finally tell the illustrator what I want her to do.
The title is another problem that I think I’ve solved by letting it simmer. I had one, but it wasn’t totally correct. My title Unlikely Pets: Rescue animals that come with baggage wasn’t totally correct because the main animal of one story was not rescued, and I didn’t want to leave out that story. I remembered what I learned in a workshop I took about titles for non-fiction books at the South Coast Writers Conference: “The title must tell what the book is about and not mislead.” Hmm! So my current title is accurate and does not mislead. Colorful Animals I Have Known. Every chapter has a color in its title “A Flash of White” and “Shades of Gray” are a couple examples.
Milestone: Yesterday, I was making calls regarding a trip south where I’ll be able to deliver books to venues that carry my books. I sold enough over the phone yesterday to cross the 2,000 mark for Crossings. Hip! Hip! Hooray!! That means that now I can once again pay royalties. That also means that with that money, I’ll be able to afford to print 1,000 more copies of The Crossings Guide. This is timely because we are down to only 130 copies of the Guide. By the time the new order comes in, we’ll have very few left.
Note: Next Friday through Sunday, I’ll be away to the South Coast Writers Conference in Gold Beach. (Yes, somebody will be here with Groucho.) On Friday, I’ll leave early so I can deliver books on the way down. I’ll also be able to see friends on Sunday before I head home. So my blog post won’t be written until late on Sunday. Till then . . .