Forging paths in the prairie and in writing
By Carol / September 12, 2013 /
Since my granddaughters were born, I’ve taken them to the prairie every time they visit us. As little ones, they were carried in. As they grew older, I led the way.
On her last visit, I encouraged my oldest granddaughter, now four and a half years old, to take the lead. She hesitated. “You’re an adventurer,” I said. “I know you can find a way. You go ahead. I’ll follow.” With that encouragement, she pushed ahead.
Her experiences in the prairie that day reminded me of my own journey in editing my novel. After an advanced novel workshop this summer, I got serious about editing my 118,000-word historical novel. Here’s what she learned about prairie exploration and what I’ve learned about editing.
Don’t be afraid. Just start. Seven-foot-tall prairie grasses and four-foot-tall flowers can be mighty intimidating to someone three-foot tall. The unknown can be scary, but once she got going, she thrived on the adventure. Having never edited a novel, I was hesitant about how it would go. But, really, there was nothing to do but start. Every day do something. The more I did, the easier it became to do more.
Accept help from someone who’s been this way before. When my granddaughter hit a wall of foliage, she looked back to me. I could point her in a new direction, just as other editors pointed me. While blogging about my “crutch words,” I learned about Sharla Rae’s list of “echo words.” Going word by word down her list, I was able to cut literally thousands of words from my manuscript. The result is infinitely better.
Trust your gut and affirm your own actions. My granddaughter might be blocked by the dense foliage, taking advantage of the paths made by other prairie visitors. or finding her own way, but the more she explored, the more excited she became. “I’m an adventurer,” she said with delight, happy to claim her title. As I launched into editing, another writer made an off hand comment: “It all comes back to the author to decide what she wants.” I’ve recalled that comment repeatedly as I learn to trust and act on what my gut tells me. I know these characters. I know the story I want to tell. I know when an entire scene needs to go. No one knows that better than I do. The editing experience affirmed me as a writer and as an editor.
Take joy in the moment. The prairie is a joy-filled place for my granddaughter, heat, bugs, scratchy plants and all. Editing can be tedious but there are joys to discover. Finding a really right word or phrase to replace the easy one I’d started with. Recognizing that letting one character use a word repeatedly creates a character trait; letting several characters use that word is lazy and the word loses its power. Discovering that fewer words can have infinitely more power.
Once isn’t enough. Each time my granddaughter emerged from the prairie, she was ecstatic. Then, she’d look for a way back in.When I finished one form of editing, like my granddaughter, I jumped back in with another approach. I searched out crutch/echo words. One at a time through the entire manuscript. After doing a word-by-word edit, I read the whole manuscript through to see what had happened to the sense of it. More words and parts of scenes hit the cutting room floor. Then back to the beginning for a read-aloud edit.
The editing journey has built my confidence, just as adventuring in the prairie build my granddaughter’s confidence. In the process, I cut 15,000 words no one will miss.
How about you? When you’ve taken on new tasks, whether they be editing or otherwise, what have you learned from the experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Important insightful points drawing a comparison between your granddaughters’ venturing into the prairie and your writing. Excellent points. Can’t wait for your book to come out. Paulette
Thanks, Paulette. The prairie is always making connections and reinforcing lessons for me. Establishing that prairie patch is one of the best things I’ve done.
I love everything you write, Carol. This one resonates so many ways. First of all as a grandmother. I will remember this lesson in naming. My two grandchildren are coming to visit next weekend — right after my book launch and right before a grueling book tour of five states and eight events in three weeks. We will be in the tall grass. But I want to take time off just to play. Perhaps we’ll step into the meadow beyond our backyard, as I did in my book trailer:http://youtu.be/I-Mxk3YzYrM
The idea of cutting words is also familiar. With the help of an editor I cut 20,000 words also.
I’m eager to buy your book. I feel so much kinship with you.
Thank you so much, Shirley. Nature has so much to teach us. I’m excited about the launch of your book. I’ve learned an incredible amount from watching your journey. Best of luck with the launch and book tour. I have no doubt your book will be a success.
I like your analogy, Carol, and it made me think hard about my own editing. We don’t use the word ‘prairie’ in Australia, but the ‘bushland’ around my rural town fits the metaphor just as well. My new book is now on sale, but a doubt always niggles me about how well I weeded out superfluous, lazy and weak words. You’ve spurred me into giving this extra attention in the next book which I’m now working on. Thanks, and best wishes for the novel!
I have not been to Australia, but I expect the bushland teaches as much as the Iowa prairie. Good luck with your book, Stephen. I’m off to check it out now.
I LOVE THE METAPHORS HERE!
Thanks, Mary. As you know, metaphors are not my strength, but the prairie helps me with that, too. The more I write, the more I see.
Like Mary, I love your use of metaphors in this post while envying the time you have with your grandchildren. Not a luxury I have due to distance. As a grandma though, I see the necessity to take time to first relax and then face the adventure. A little hesitation is to be expected prior to trying something new. And I’ve tried something new since retirement other than writing. I took flute lessons for the first time for about six months, until I could no longer stand to take them because of back and leg pain. Once I could sit comfortably at the computer, the flute lessons went by the wayside but I tried it! It felt good and daunting all at once. Playing the piano is one thing; playing the flute something altogether different. But it was an adventure!
Congratulations on giving the flute a try, Sherrey! I hadn’t thought about it but these lessons do work for any new venture. My totally-out-of-the-box new thing is drawing lessons. I took a couple and plan to take more, once I’m not glued to my keyboard. Adding these new adventures keeps life so fresh!
What an insightful correlation between working your way through tall prairie grasses and editing a book. Both build confidence and although sometimes uncertain, are enjoyable too.
Thank you, Grace. The prairie offers me so many lessons when I take time to learn them!