Having spent the (one inch) margins of the past 48 hours between “cleaning up” Wave to Papa before it hits my new editor’s hands, I’ve learned a few interesting things about my writing – and I suspect – others’ too. There is a poem - “All I ever needed to learn, I learned in kindergarten.” As I send off the final format for a first round of edits, I’m happy to share with my fellow writers what I learned while going through this painstaking process:
1. We use numbers more than we realize. (Gross). For example, there were 97 occurrences of the number one in a 60,304 word manuscript. Think about it, dates (1995), lists, ages, and, in this case, inmate numbers, all carry with them numbers. Not bad for a girl who swore she’d never use math in any way, ever, in her career. I still hate numbers. Regardless, my math teacher brother would be proud. As revenge, I sent him a joke today saying “Dear Algebra, stop asking us to find your X. She’s not coming back. We don’t know Y either.”
2. I swear entirely too much. But the great news about “clean up” is you can throw a bar of soap at a manuscript too. Now, in my defense, several chapters take place in a jail. So you can imagine, those were a bit trickier to clean up. However, my grandmother will be pleasantly surprised by the clean-up job. It’s amazing what a little word soap can do and how much better things
3. I’ve become a pro at avoiding adverbs. (This has taken 20 years of practice, people!)
4. I am not as great with computers as I claim to be. There is no computer that I know of that can change -- to a – dash, yet everyone I know seems to be able to do it just fine with their computers. Even when borrowing a computer, the -- sticks with me. $10 to the first person who can tell me why this is and what I am doing wrong? Knowing this would have saved me, oh, 3 hours. But who is counting? Counting means more numbers.
5. We really do write what we know. And we tend to repeat ourselves.
6. I try too hard to avoid clichés. (Thereby turning myself into the cliché of a desperate, starving writer).
7. I still cannot write dialogue without serious aides. (I have 40 hours that I’ll never get back into MSNBC’s “Lock Up Raw” just to get the prison jive right. It probably still sounds Pollyanna).
8. I need to invest in a baby name book. My characters all needed name changes. It’s a good thing writers don’t have to register these imaginary people with social security. There’s be an influx of 1960s-1980s (more ones) names all over the place. My age shows with naming. (Refer to “we write what we know.”) The way around this? Ask a teen what they would name their kid. You’re bound to be surprised.
9. No two publishers format the same. Sure, you can expect that no one is going to be impressed with a purple Berlin Sans font, size 24, but who knew that things as simple as whether or not to italicize text messages would be part of the new MSP formatting guidelines? I do find it neat that there even are guidelines around how to write text messages though!
10. And lastly? My favorite: We surprise ourselves. I haven’t read the full MSP in a few months now. I was surprised many times. Sometimes by myself, sometimes by my characters, and mostly by the process. Even with what I have learned. This is what makes putting the puzzle that is a novel together so much fun. And, while my swollen fingers will plow through another night of pen to page…
I just published my first novel, Crazy Like Me with Savant Publications. This, my second novel, Wave to Papa, will be released on Sept. 8, 2015!