Editing: The First Draft
This morning, August 20th, 2020 at 12:07 am, I finally finished the first draft of my latest book, "There's No Place Like House!" Don't worry, the champagne is currently being chilled in the fridge and my feet are elevated. I'm taking today to celebrate, relax, and reflect; a process I usually rush through and shy away from, uncomfortably. I've never been great at recognizing my successes. I'm always thinking, "What's next?" Drawing up a plan of action before the ink has even dried. But I'm trying to treat myself better than that.
So here we are. Taking a moment to celebrate. Together. I'm glad you could make it.
How It All Started:
I started writing the book on November 10th, 2018 after having to evacuate two homes within a 24 hour period. I had recently made a decision to upend my life and try something different. This left me living out of a suitcase for a while, bouncing around multiple temporary living situations that were anything but ordinary. But, I'd be lying if I said I didn't love every moment of it. I had just turned 27 years old and was horribly unhappy with the life I had built. I needed to start taking responsibility for my choices.
I wanted to take more risks, and go on grand adventures,
and treat my life like the breathing work of art that it is!
So that's exactly what I did.
I went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and The Globe Theatre in London. I gave Jack Kerouac my PO Box key and ate fresh lobster-rolls in Boston. I drove all the way across the country, coast-to-coast, twice, during a global pandemic because I refused to give up trying for the moon. I befriended a traveling Belgian Jazz Band, and worked for a world-famous Literary Festival, and walked on all the biggest and brightest red carpets in Hollywood, and snuck into restricted areas of the grandest hotels to swing dance in the dark.
I also suffered the most heartbreaking losses of my life. I created my own Christmas traditions. I attended too many funerals. And I got drunk and played on a stair-chair when I felt too broken to keep packing up all of my things. But it got done.
And I wrote about all of it.
Now I get to start the heart-wrenching process of EDITING! Tearing the book to shreds and piecing it back together, crossing my fingers tightly behind my back and hoping it's as brilliant as it can be so a big-time literary agent will read my query letter and sample pages and say,
"YES! Finally! The manuscript of my dreams! I cannot WAIT to represent this incredibly talented debut author. Her books will fly off the shelves faster than we can restock them! Her name will grace the top of the coveted New York Times Bestseller List! Get her on the phone immediately. And make sure the advance is hefty enough to guarantee we pin her down before anyone else gets to her."
Of course, I would also be happy with a request to read more than the first ten-pages, but a girl can dream, right?
Step 1: Print & Reread The Entire Book
I believe the saying is, "Once more from the top!"
1. I went to a nearby FedEx and ordered a nice, spiral bound copy on hearty paper so I can easily carry it around with me without it falling into a pile of nonsense if I drop it.
2. I formatted it with one-inch margins and 1.5 spacing so there's room for me to make notes.
3. I drafted up a rough idea for the cover using a photo I own the rights to and Canva's online editing software, so the whole thing would feel more put together and legitimate. Packaging counts. Trust me.
Now I can sit back with a glass of wine and a red pen, and get to work.
The first go around, I'm focusing on grammatical and spelling oversights and overall flow of each piece. Since this is a book of essays, each piece needs to have a story arc, but there needs to be an overarching through-line as well. To make sure it has a nice, natural rhythm to it, I like to read my work out loud to hear the cadence. It also makes it easier to test out dialogue to make sure it doesn't sound too stilted or forced.
Step 2: Keep, Rewrite, Trash
Next is to mark each essay as a Yes, Maybe, or No. I bought these adorable little multi-colored Post-It tabs from Amazon that will turn my already beautiful first-draft into a Miranda Priestly editing dream! Since this is a memoir, I need to continually remind myself that I have to treat myself as the protagonist and not a living, breathing creature with feelings.
Sometimes, essays will have to be cut because they don't serve the primary story-arc, even if they were based on a fabulous memory. And sometimes, things I may see as "less-exciting," will make incredible essays, communicating universal messages and moving the plot forward with more gusto than a cut-and-dry "incident" essay might.
ALSO, since this is nonfiction, I need to be sensitive about chapters that may be too personal, or include other people. I will be asking permission from anyone who appears in the book for their consent to be included. If they say no, I will have to find ways to respect their personal boundaries, while still staying true to the story I'm telling.
Step 3: Reread AGAIN & Ask for Help
Every single person who picks up a book is going to notice something different. They will all have different favorite parts, and characters they hated, and things they wish ended differently.
But the idea is to get a general consensus so you can see where the larger issues lie.
After spending almost two years writing the damn thing, and at least a few months editing it, the words are all going to seem old hat to me. I'll probably have sections of it memorized. It's nearly impossible to catch errors when speed reading, so when I get to that point I will be enlisting the help of my most trusted friends with degrees in English Literature.
If they're willing to help, I'll only send them one or two essays to proof and give feedback on, then make decisions on what to change on a case-by-case basis.
Where do we go from here?
After all of the changes have been made, I'll make one final hard copy to peruse at my leisure for any remaining errors while I start working on building...
THE BEST DAMNED QUERY LETTER THIS TOWN HAS EVER SEEN!
But let's get through the editing first, yes?
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