From my understanding, hell is a place where bad people go.
First drafts are places where hellish sentences, plots and characters lurk. When you edit, you’re a manuscript exorcist. The power of revision compels you! The power of revision compels you!
As imperative as the editing process is, I’ve seen plenty of aspiring writers stuck in revision hell. I know people who have been editing and tweaking their first novel for over ten years. Then there are people who think a first draft is all you need, forgetting that when you say first draft, that implies there must come a second, third, yadda-yadda-yadda. We all can’t be Robert B. Parker who obtained legendary status as a writer who loathed rewrites. Let’s consider him the outlier, not the standard.
When you edit, you have to set tight rules. You want to polish that lump of coal into a diamond, but it has no value if you never get it out to an agent or publisher.
When 2014 ends, I will have published 8 books in 3 years. I’m always working on something, so I can’t let myself slip into editing hell. But, I also can’t scrimp on revising each novel and novella.
Editing, to me, is synonymous with the word rounds. Each book will require several rounds of revisions. And when I say round, I mean going from start to end, re-reading and rewriting like a person possessed. Here’s an example of how I edited my upcoming novella, The Waiting.
First Round : Also known as the first draft. My main concern at this stage was getting the story down. Occasionally I would go back and tweak what I wrote the day before, but the theme in this round is always onward and upward! Hell, what’s pouring out of me at this point may not even make sense, but somewhere in that mess is the backbone of the book. The key is to power through and get to The End.
Second Round : This is where the hard work comes in. I read every line from start to end, making changes, wiping out whole sections, adding more, tightening plot points, checking for grammar, punctuation, etc. Of all the rounds, this is the one with the most heavy lifting. This is where the story truly comes alive.
Third Round : I have several trusted people who are my first readers. For each book, I’ll select two of them to read the manuscript. One looks at it like a line editor, finding all of my many mistakes, checking for continuity and basically making it look like I passed English class with flying colors. Another reads it to give me feedback on the story itself. They make suggestions on how to improve the story. Some parts need to be placed in earlier sections of a book, others tossed into a deep, deep pit. They’ll also point out sub-plots that my conscious mind wasn’t aware of, affording me the chance to further explore them and make the overall story stronger. The feedback from my first readers has a value impossible to quantify. I’m eternally in their debt.
Fourth Round : In this round, I take the line edits from my first reader and correct all of the mistakes. For me, this is the easiest round since someone has already told me what to do. I just need to follow orders.
Fifth Round : Now another very hard part. Scrambling the pieces of the story around based on my other first reader’s feedback. This can be a heavy rewrite that can take weeks, or a little less punishing that may only take all my free time for a week.
Sixth Round : After I’ve retooled the entire book, I have to read it again, making more revisions as I go. This can be heaven or it can be hell. If it’s heaven, it’s ready to go once I’ve reached the last page. If it’s hell, it means another round of edits.
Luckily, for The Waiting, I was able to stop at 6 rounds. Double lucky was that it was a novella and only a hundred pages. Sweet. Now, when I wrote my thriller, The Montauk Monster ,a book that was just under 100,000 words, I believe I went as far as 8 rounds. Remember earlier when I said you have to set editing rules? That was essential for The Montauk Monster because I only had 4 months to write and edit the book. If your goal is to be a working writer, you’re going to be writing your ass off, year in and year out. There’s no time to be trapped in editing hell.
Don’t let the multiple rounds process scare you. Believe it or not, you’ll like the book more and more with each round. You may even grow to love it! The passion you felt on writing the first page will be rekindled. Honest.
I’m not saying this is the way you have to do it. It’s just the way I do it and it’s been working…so far.
Anyone out there stuck in editing hell? You have a revision trick that could benefit the rest of the class? Come on, let’s hear it. When it comes to writing, old dogs learn new tricks every day. I’ll send a signed promo copy of the cover of The Montauk Monster to the first 10 people in the U.S. who add to the conversation (have to watch that postage! if you live outside the US, I’ll find something else for you).
Okay, another round of shoveling, another couple of Motrin. You will not defeat me, Father Winter!
I am comforted thinking about the release of my new novella, The Waiting, in just two months. In just 8 weeks, the snow will be history and I’ll be back in shorts and sleeveless shirts (ala Larry the Cable Guy, my fashion guru). With The Waiting, I’m diving right back into the world of ghosts, but with a twist. This time around the story is real. And it’s not one I got from secondhand accounts. This is the kind of stuff that turns people into insomniacs or ‘day sleepers’.
Let me take things on step further. Here’s a sneak preview from chapter 13. You can pre-order a copy (it’ll be out as an e-book only) at Samhain, Amazon and B&N. Now turn off your EMF meter, bathe yourself in a protective circle of light and read on….
Alice worried constantly about her daughter, but it wasn’t until recently that she considered there might come a day when she would lose her. When she had first arrived at the house, she could feel the hope that crackled in the air. Like all energy, it had come and gone, morphing into something new, in someplace new.
Now the house felt cold and expectant. Her negative thoughts weren’t helping the situation. All of Cassie’s pain and their worry were building a cocoon of despair. Somehow, they had to find a way to break free of it.
Well, today she would try her best to dispel the negativity. Cassie was going to come out of it. Things always get worse before they get better. She knew Brian never left the house without making sure all of Cassie’s machines were pumping and draining away. That meant there was time for a shower before heading downstairs. Better to start clean and new.
When she was done, she wrapped a towel around her hair, put on a nice shirt and jeans and walked down the noisy stairs.
“Good boy,” she said when she saw the half-full coffee pot on the warmer. He made it a little weak for her taste, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Alice had bought a handful of gossip magazines at the bookstore. She wanted to make today a silly girl day, even if Cassandra couldn’t laugh or groan along with her. Then maybe she’d take a cue from Brian and pop in a movie and watch it with her.
As she walked out of the kitchen, she said, “Cassie, honey, you’re never going to believe who Brad Pitt is fooling around with.”
The mug slipped from her hand, bathing the floor and her feet with piping hot coffee. If there was pain, her mind was too stunned to register it.
A small boy sat at the end of Cassandra’s bed. One knee was bent and most of that leg was on the comforter. The other was locked straight, his foot flat on the floor. He looked at Cassie with beautiful, shining eyes and a round face with skin as flawless and smooth as fresh cream.
He didn’t look away, despite the crashing of the coffee mug and her sharp gasp of surprise.
The sun filtered through the window. It bathed him in a diffusion of soft, yellow light.
Alice’s heart raced and her hands began to tremble. She found it hard to keep her grip on the tabloids.
The boy moved with surprising grace, shifting off the bed and seeming to glide to the head of Cassandra’s bed. He bent forward, and Alice lost sight of him for a moment. When he straightened, he smiled, then reached out to the control panel of the infusion pump.
Part of her wanted to yell at him not to touch it. If she thought a real, living boy was in the room with her daughter, she would have.
But she knew what she was seeing was not an actual boy.
The certainty of what she beheld kept her mouth from opening and her legs from propelling her into the room.
She watched him turn his back and walk around the bed until he left the view within the doorframe. She was struck by how quiet the house was. The boy’s footsteps didn’t elicit a single tick from the cranky wood floor.
When he was gone, the infusion pump started to howl. It broke her trance and she walked over shards of ceramic, leaving coffee and crimson-colored footprints in her wake. She was not surprised to see that the boy had disappeared.
She was concerned about the warning chime on the pump. When she looked down, the floor by the bed was covered in a foul-smelling miasma of blood and clots of infected tissue. The drain tube in Cassandra’s stomach had slipped out. Her digestive acids must have flared up, spewing rot and gore from the open wound the surgeon had left until it spilled onto the floor.
The smell was overpowering. She clamped a hand over her mouth to keep from vomiting.
What do I do?
As you can most likely ascertain from the title of this post, 2013 was not my favorite year. In a word, it was a disaster. And so I bid it a not-so-fond farewell, not with a top 10 list or bullet points of resolutions. I have only one resolution for 2014 : to never live through 2013 again. Now there’s one that can’t help but come to fruition.
2014 will be better. The people that have passed from our lives can’t do it a second time. Family members that have been seriously ill are on the mend. I have several books coming out that will keep me exceedingly busy and happy that I’m still living a dream that floated into my fevered brain decades ago.
I have my Narragansett beer, Patron tequila and Nat Sherman cigars waiting to help me usher in the new year.
So, what am I looking forward to?
In April, my novella, The Waiting, a ghost story based on actual events, is sure to make you rethink life and death and the unknown places in between.
Over the summer, my very first western horror, Hell Hole, will take you to a deserted, haunted mining town in Wyoming at the turn of the 20th Century. From aging cowboys to Teddy Roosevelt, wild men to black-eyed kids, hell on earth has never been so much…well, fun!
I have another major book announcement to make, but that will come very soon in the new year.
Through all of the tumult, writing and entertaining you, the reader, has been the one thing that’s kept me sane. Despite everything, I managed to write 3 full length novels in 2013, along with my first short story collection, Asylum Scrawls, which is doing exceedingly well despite my typical writer’s neuroses that nothing is ever good enough. I can tell you from experience that writing is better (and cheaper) than therapy.
At the Monster Men podcast dungeon, we’re going to branch into remote interviews with writers, directors, paranormal groups and anyone that tickles our monster bone. In fact, our test run, an interview with Anthony Ventarola (you remember the guy who went with us to the haunted Union Cemtery?) about this season’s The Walking Dead, can be seen right here. Lots more to come.
My wife and I plan to renew our vows, 22 years after the first go around with a priest who was three sheets to the wind and a DJ who drank himself unconscious before the reception ended. Good times.
Basically, 2014 will be a re-start, a shedding of the skin, even though I hate snakes more than Indiana Jones.
And what better way to move on while still looking back than with a great HuffPost article about the year in Bigfoot. Things will be squatcherific, for sure.