After six years and three manuscripts, I finally found an agent and an editor and sold my novel, The Exceptionals. I thought I’d polish the manuscript a bit, and it would soon be in stores.
Boy, was I wrong! Now came the editing. I edited, and edited, and then I edited some more. I cut words, scenes and whole characters! My editor did love my dialogue, which was funny to me, because I used to have a terrible time crafting dialogue. I want all my characters to speak beautiful, proper English. Unfortunately, people do not speak like that. To fix that problem, I always read my dialogue out loud several times before I’m satisfied with it. Now I’m told dialogue is one of my strengths.
As I poured over my editor's notes, I saw that she scribbled in several places: your writing is so fresh -- you can do better than this, or too cliché. Fixing that problem was much harder than I thought it would be.
Since much of my book takes place in the woods, I went outside with my pen and notebook, and like my protagonist, Claire, sat down on a rock and observed what I saw, heard and smelled. The colors and sounds were different than what I had thought. In the morning I jotted down what the sunrise looked like (my children get up much too early for school!). I was surprised to discover that in winter months I often saw vibrant bands of violet at the horizon - rarely did I see the pinks and oranges I saw in my mind’s eye. I paid attention to storms and the way the clouds moved. Every observation went in my notebook.
And then I worked on avoiding the same old tired expressions. Once I did that, I started to notice how other authors described things. Now, whenever I read a book, I have my green 3 ring binder handy. As I come across a phrase or description that is beautiful or interesting, I stop and try to come up with my own unique way to express it – which I scribble down. When I’m writing – and I use it even more often during re-writes -- I have my notebook with me, and I reference it often.
This system also works for descriptive words -- I jot down adjectives and verbs I like. In the back of the notebook I have a few pages devoted just to action verbs. How many times can I write ran, darted, bolted. . . ? But now I can quickly look and find thundered, side-stepped, squeezed, pranced, trundled along . . .
Through the long process from manuscript to the birth of the book, I realized that most authors have strengths and weaknesses. I’m so thankful that my editor showed me some of my weaknesses, because as I worked on correcting them, I became a much better writer.