Oh Boy, Did I Write That?

Over the last few days, I’ve been working intensely on a writing project which has a looming deadline.  For some time, I’ve not read the material in this particular manuscript. When I originally wrote the material, I worked hard on the contents, the stories and the how-to material. I recall pouring hours of thought and effort into the project. Then I tucked it away and haven’t read it for about a year—until the last few days.

I’ve been working through each sentence and each phrase in this lengthy project. I find myself thinking repeatedly, “Oh boy, did I write that?” I’ve been amazed at the twisted sentences. In many ways, this experience reminded me of a principle that I mentioned earlier about haste sometimes makes waste. It seems like writers and editors are always chasing one deadline or another.

Slowly on my computer screen, I’ve reworked and rewritten the pesky sentences until they seem to flow in a better order. As a part of this particular writing task, I’ve been expanding the contents and adding additional stories and how-to information into the manuscript.  Whenever I come to a particular story, I’m returning to the story and looking to see if it is complete and fully told.  Often to my chagrin I’ve found it was missing some element. To help the reader, I’ve been filling out these particular stories, adding dialogue and other elements to keep the reader engaged in the content of my book.

I don’t like to face this part of my writing life. I want to move on to the next project with confidence that I’ve fully completed the old writing project. Instead, I’m mired in fixing an older project. It’s not pleasant work but it is necessary work. As writers, each of us face these types of tasks. If the language and the storytelling isn’t right, then it needs to be reworked. With each paragraph, I’m tackling this project. I will re-read my rewrite in a few days. As I’ve worked on each page, I’m confident the manuscript is improving through this process.

Currently I’m chaffing under the discipline of rewriting my own work. It’s not one of my great pleasures as an editor to have to call a writer and work through material that needs rewriting—but I’ve handled this type of conversation repeatedly.  At my former publisher, part of my task was to read a contracted manuscript after the author finished writing it and submitted it. I was reading to determine if the content was acceptable. Acceptability is important to the author because it normally means the editor is pleased with the contents and will release the second portion of their advance. The writer is happy because they get paid for their completion of the manuscript. 

Even when weighed with a great deal of responsibility, I took seriously this task of reading the manuscript for acceptability.  I recall one author had rushed through the storytelling for several of his chapters.  Instead of weaving together a story which showed the reader the events, this writer told the story.  Several times, he used the words, “Let’s listen to ______ tell the story in their own words…” Instead of involving the reader in the story, the reader was removed and listening to someone tell the story—almost like reading a transcription of an interview. This particular author had written several bestselling books with other publishers. I was reading his first new manuscript for my publisher. I marked each of these “told” stories and asked the author to rewrite these sections.  The author thanked me  which is always the sign of a true professional. He didn’t balk or try and protect his words. Instead he took my direction and reworked these stories. He said, “Oh, Terry, you are making me a better writer.” It’s one of the highest compliments to my editing.

The longer I work in publishing, I’m convinced each writer and each editor need to be pushed with our craft for it to reach the highest level. Some times you can push yourself. If you set aside a manuscript for a period of time, then return to it. You see it with fresh eyes to tear into the contents and if it needs it, rewrite the sentences.

Admittedly, it’s hard work for me to gain a confidence in the overall work of this particular manuscript. I’m determined to finish it and turn my anxiety about this project into creativity. It’s part of my writing life at the moment.

3 Responses to “Oh Boy, Did I Write That?”

  1. violet Says:

    I don’t think one can rush this editing process. One of the biggest aids I’ve found to help me improve what I’ve written is to take time away from it (as you did). I gain objectivity and can read it almost as if it’s someone else’s writing. Two other things that help me are to read things aloud, and to have someone else read what I’ve written, then tell you what doesn’t work for them.

  2. Becky Says:

    I so appreciate hearing how others in the writing business work. Among other things it reminds me that God has made each of us, fearfully and wonderfully, as unique individuals.

    What Terry finds as burdensome and part of the “have to,” I delight in. For me, the rewriting, revising where I can “pretty up” the language is the real joy of writing, the part I can get lost in. It’s good to be aware that this is not a “guilty pleasure,” one I should neglect in the effort to accumulate a body of work. A writing career is a matter of both/and.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    There’s a flip side to this feeling of “Oh boy…did I write that?” Sometimes it’s fun to browse back through a file of old half-developed ideas. Most of the time I’m shocked (and often pleased) that the idea sprang from me, but I have no idea why I got sidetracked and never completed them. Your thoughts on reviewing prior work made me realize how much good material goes to waste if I let it sit long enough.

    Thanks for another great piece, Terry. This was a good reminder that I think we all need from time to time.

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