I have met and read people who claim to love editing their fiction. I do not hate them, but consider them strange and exquisite mistakes of nature. Like the guy who last year took home what looks like a bowling trophy for eating 62 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs at the annual (yes, really) competition held at Coney Island every Independence Day.
Writing The Splendid Children was very much like skiing down hill for me. It was still work. I fell from time to time and was plenty sore more than once. I even skied off the trail and into the woods in Chapter 4, necessitating a retreat and retry. But there was also a lot of feeling myself pulled forward to an inevitable goal, with every anticipation that I would know when I was done.
Editing offers essentially none of that.
I learned to snow ski on a high school class trip to Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire. I bought a ticket and rode the bus. My childhood snow pants were long gone and I wore a new pair of jeans. It was April vacation and the air was above freezing. Two friends said they would teach me, so I got on the chair lift with them and went to the top. It started to rain before we arrived at the summit. Without exaggeration, teaching me to ski consisted of them saying “Go like this” and taking off down the mountain. Zoom.
That was not helpful.
Since I knew nothing about using the edges of the skis to turn or stop, nothing about snow plowing, and had cascaded down a literal slippery slope onto an intermediate trail, the trip down was a bit of a problem. I would get going in a straight line until I felt out of control and then throw myself sideways to stop.
One problem with this was that my rented skis would pop off and get stuck in the snow some number of yards above where my body came to rest. So I would then try to right myself, get up and walk/ski/crawl/grapple my way back to the lost ski or skis. All the while getting rained on, with my brandy new denim jeans bleeding bright blue marks onto the icy hill at each location I fell. When I reached the bottom I glided into a puddle of ice water until I tumbled into it. Looking back up the hill, I could see faint upside-down V’s all the way up the hill, the marks that the legs of my jeans made each place I sat after crashing.
So I know what it is to ski up hill. And that is what the editing process has been.
I first did what Amy MacKinnon, author of the novel Tethered and a straight-up brilliant human, suggested and let the book rest for at least six weeks, which actually turned into a couple of months. Then I sat and re-read it all in one sitting, decided I still liked it, and put it back down for a week. I made line edits and a couple of story edits, making sure the timelines worked and the names didn’t change spelling from one chapter to the next.
Then it started sitting again, with me making squishy plans on next steps and not managing to execute those plans. This weekend, spurred on by the accountability associated with this blog, I again started making progress instead of excuses. I bought the ink I needed to print another hard copy and a couple of packages of paper. (Excuse #1, buh-bye.) I stayed home while my family went off on an adventure that included ice cream on Saturday and got the hard copy made. (Seez-yah, Excuse #2). Then rather than leave it as an intimidating pile of paper almost two inches thick, I broke it into 25 page chunks.
The object is to read it aloud. I read through the first chunk on Sunday morning before my family woke up, catching errors and rough spots that had escaped me when I read and edited last fall. I read through most of the second chunk this morning before the alarms upstairs went off.
Presuming the cat we call El Gato Guapo continues his normal habit, he will have me up and feeding him between 5 and 6:10 a.m. tomorrow. I believe that reading aloud for edits is the last step before I will feel comfortable letting others see it, eventually including an editor and/or agent.
The good news, and I am somewhat sheepish in saying it, is that so far I think it is strong work. The shortcomings I feared were present in the opening chapters were not to be found. So tomorrow, with the help of our handsome cat, I hope to be skiing up hill. Again.