Going Mad?

You have toiled over your manuscript for weeks, months, maybe even years. You’ve written and rewritten more times than you can count. You’ve removed scenes and sentences you’ve loved in the effort to make your book ready to publish. Finally, you’ve sent it off to an editor for polishing. It is rather like sending your baby off to preschool… you stand tearfully at the curb as your child is taken away on the school bus. Away from you. Out of your hands.

Then the editor reads it and sends you suggestions for changes. Again you painstakingly go through your manuscript sentence by sentence, word by word. Is that comma really justified? Should I combine those two sentences to make it flow better?

Finally, you think everything is done. It is formatted for an ebook or print. You see the latest version. Is that a typo?? How did we miss that? How many times have you and your editor read through this labor of love and yet you are still seeing errors?

Are you starting to feel like you want to bang your head against the wall because it would feel better than going through your manuscript yet again? You’re not alone.

Any author who cares about the quality of the book they publish goes through this. Yes, it is maddening. Yes, it makes you want to tear it all up into little bits and flush it down the toilet before you jump off the nearest cliff. Yes, you may reconsider your life’s work and decide it would be better to devote your life to swallowing all the alcohol your system can stand. Could this be why Hemingway killed himself?

Take a deep breath. It may seem endless. It may seem like no matter what you do, you can’t find every single typo or error that managed to creep into the manuscript while everyone was sleeping. This is where it pays to have a good editor, or publisher or agent there to hold your hand, wipe your literary brow and tell you it will be okay. Sometimes I find myself like the birth doula I used to be, except I’m reassuring my authors over email or the phone that it will all be okay. If I could, I’d give them a real hug when they are feeling like it will never end.

Before you decide to commit yourself into the nearest mental health facility and give up writing forever, take a look at that dreaded bit of writing again. You may be tired and weary, but the end is in sight. If you are so sick of the sight of your work that you don’t ever want to see it again, chances are you are so close to your goal that you can’t see the forest for the trees. (Yes, I know that is trite and overused, but it seemed appropriate here.) Deep breath. Cup of tea (or other favorite beverage). It is worth that last close look.

Forgive my pregnancy analogy here, but I used to be very deeply involved in the childbirth field. Mothers go through pregnancy, getting bigger and clumsier. I know. I’ve been there many times. By the end of pregnancy, all you care about is getting that baby out of your belly and into your arms. It hurts. You feel awkward. Your ankles have disappeared. All of these inconvenient details help a mother prepare her mind for labor and that first initial separation with her baby when he or she leaves her body and becomes a separate person.

Likewise, all this detail-oriented editing and proofing over and over prepares you as the author to let your book go out to the public. Writing a book has often been compared to giving birth, but the analogy holds true. By the time you’ve vetted it so much, you’re ready to hurl the damn thing out the window and let it fall where it may. Having a trusted editor, agent or publisher can help ease this transition for you and make you feel better about the process. You don’t have to go through it alone.

Once your book makes its debut, it will be the better for all of this hard work. It will be crisp, well-written, and as error-free as you can make it. You can feel good that your book, even if you self-publish, is as high quality as it can be.

So, when you feel you are truly losing it and that you’ll be physically sick if you have to look at even one more page of your manuscript again, keep that big picture in mind. As a birth doula, sometimes I had to remind mothers of their goal at the end; that all this pain was going to result in a sweet little baby in their arms. The pain sometimes made them forget. As an editor, I sometimes have to remind my authors that at the end of all this pain, they will get a wonderful book that they will be proud to see on the shelves.

That end result is worth it.

The Dialogue Police

Dialogue. It is a necessary evil if you have characters. They must communicate, after all. Someone has to talk. It is also some of the most challenging writing you’ll do.

Why? Because you need to know your characters enough to speak for them. As them. Use their vocabularies, not yours. Reflect their histories and emotions. Oh, and don’t make them sound stilted unless that is how your character speaks.

Unlike everyday speech that we engage in everyday, you must also focus and compress your written dialogue so it is interesting. Let’s face it; we have a million conversations a day with family, friends, and coworkers that would put anyone to sleep if they read it. In a book, you need to keep that kind of dialogue to a minimum.

So, how can you make your dialogue more effective?

One way to make your dialogue sound more realistic is to use contractions. When most people speak, they don’t say, “I would not do that if I were you.” They say, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” It will also make it sound more natural if you use sentence fragments in places. When we speak, we don’t tend to think of proper sentence structure. Did I remember to put in all the adverbs I wanted to describe the topic I was just talking about with Karen? No, that just doesn’t happen. Take a common topic in our household, tea.

“Want some tea?” Wendy asked.
“Sounds great.”

Neither of these sentences are built in the proper structure, but they reflect how people talk. You can get away with a lot more of this when writing dialogue because it sounds more natural.

You can also help make your dialogue more natural by stringing sentences together using commas. We don’t often stop completely after each thought when we speak; we leap from one to another.

“Yes, I want some eggs, make sure they are sunnyside up, thanks.”

Never opt for the more complicated word unless your character thinks using big words is impressive to someone. Fancy words can make the dialogue sound stilted, unrealistic, and if they are truly big and obscure, make your reader stumble. Try using ‘obligatory’ in a sentence without sounding awkward and unrealistic. Most people would use ‘required’ or even ‘mandatory’ instead when they speak. Courtroom dramas may be a small exception to this when a character is a lawyer speaking during a trial or if you have medical personnel talking about a case amongst themselves. In these cases, you may need to figure out a way for the reader to understand the terminology.