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Beta Readers, Early Readers, Editing, Empty Words, Featured, First Paragraph, Writing, Writing Challenge, Writing Habits, Writing Life, Writing Style

If Writing Is An Art,

May 21, 2018

then editing is a craft. For me, writing the initial draft of any work brings me a freedom to put anything, and I do mean anything, down on paper. I love getting out of my characters’ way and let them have free rein. That first draft may be full of purple prose, misnamed characters, characters whose physical features change from sentence to sentence. I don’t worry.

Once I’ve finished the first draft, I sit back and think about the characters first. What do they look like? How do they speak? What do they carry in their pockets or purses? I make a list of all these things, so that when I begin crafting a story, I have a reference point. Notice I do this AFTER I’ve written the first draft. Nothing can restrain the initial gush of story.

I then return to each chapter. Is it necessary? Does it move the story along? Does it have or need conflict? What happens in it? If I can’t see the chapter moving the story forward, I cut it out of the longer manuscript and copy it into a file called [Working Book Title] Parking Lot. I may need it again. I may not, but at least it’s not lost.

That done, the fun begins. I mean it. Editing is fun, painful at times, but fun, because that’s when I shape the story. Think of a potter at her wheel. She slaps a blob of wet clay in the center and begins spinning the wheel. Gradually, through a deft touch and no small amount of luck, she shapes the clay into a vase or bowl or whatever the clay wants to become. Words are like clay. Story is like the wheel. My hands are merely a means to revealing a story, much like the hands of the potter pulling a shape from the blob.

Editing is plain hard work. Early drafts are, for me, broad brush strokes to see where the story falls apart. It will, because it hasn’t been finessed at all. Secondary drafts are where I look at every word in every sentence. Is it the right word to convey what I want? Is it a cliche that has to die a rapid death by Delete key? Is it trite, original, fresh, stale? Sometimes, it takes several drafts before I can set a chapter aside. After a few weeks, after I’ve finished all the other chapters, I sit back and reread from page one to “the end.”

Oh what was I thinking? What drivel? No one will ever want to read this. It sucks. Oh, wait, what? That chapter is really pretty good. So is the next one. I think about what makes each chapter sing. I try to replicate it.

And then I ask my loyal beta readers to dive in. Usually, this leads to more revelations about what needs to be fixed. Some are such good readers they can suggest what they expected to read. After a few more edits, I’m finally ready. I put the book out into the world. I cross my fingers in hopes people like it. I read reviews, even the one-star reviews. I engage with readers on social media or old school by phone, in person, or email. Each interaction, each engagement, helps me become a better writer.

I’m in the midst of the secondary draft stage of a book called Out of the Desert, a novel in stories. So far, one chapter of fourteen sings on key. The others are still slightly off key. More work to be done. Bye for now.

Featured, Research, Writing Habits, Writing Inspiration, Writing Life

Doing Research For a Book

June 13, 2016

You’re probably wondering why I have pictures of actors who’ve played police or sheriffs as the header here. Simple, really. I want to give a shout out to police who have recently taken time to help me get details right.

But first, a seque down memory lane. When I was a small child living in suburban Los Angeles, I was taught that policemen were my friends. If I needed anything, I could walk up to one and ask. That said, I realize growing up white in the ‘burbs, not a minority in an inner city or the ghetto or the ‘hood, have shaded belief in the police. Can’t help it. That’s the way I was raised.

Over the years, I have been arrested and tossed in the slammer more than once. But, that is the subject of another post. Maybe.

I’ve asked police for directions, turned in rapists, and stood up for human rights. I’ve protested and occupied buildings. I lay down in the middle of the freeway to stop traffic. I did all sorts of silly things, just short of breaking the law. Well, occupying Federal buildings was technically breaking the law. All we received were nights in the drunk tank and release with no charges. Trust me. I never want to be in the drunk tank again, but the memory gave me a powerful scene in a book. Alas, the scene met the Delete key when I changed points of view. Still…

When police officers began playing secondary roles in my books. I needed primary research. Sure, growing up with Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke or Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show or today’s Blue Bloods gave me a distorted view of what a policeman’s life is today. To those men and women I pestered in line at Starbucks, thank you for telling me how much your belt weighs. Thanks to the policeman directing traffic at Saratoga Race track for telling me how much is bullet-proof vest weighed and how hot it was in August. Thanks also to the Maryland State Deputy who let me hold his Taser. I’ll never reveal his name, and I’ll never forget how the weapon felt in my hand.

To the police information officers in rural Mississippi, you were an invaluable source of deep background on what life was like in post-Katrina Mississippi. And to the State Police public information officer who not only answered my questions about jurisdiction at the same time and place, but who invited me to call back with any more questions, I hope I have the facts right in Uncharted Territory. You gave me more information than I could use. I will never forget your kindness.

And to agents from the FBI, CDC, and DEA, as well as the Secret Service, for helping me understand jurisdictions once again, you have my sincere gratitude.

These men and women are my heroes. They do their jobs every day, most with no fanfare. So I’m whipping out my trumpet and blowing a salute to you.

Mom was right. If you need help, ask a cop.

Have you had positive interactions with police officers?

 

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Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and NoblePlease follow me on my website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.

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