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Spit and Polish

For the past few months I’ve spent time writing Fiddler’s Green nearly every day. I like to plant myself in the back corner of Panera Bread (because it rocks), or my neighborhood Starbucks (where they know my name and give me free stuff), or the burrito shop down the road (chips and fruit tea all day long) and once I’ve settled in with something tasty to eat or drink or both, I crack open the Macbook and get to work. Some days it might be an hour, others it might be six or more. And there’s a lot of hand-wringing going on because now that The Fiddler’s Gun is in readers’ hands, expectations have been whetted for the next book and the conclusion has got to satisfy.

I’m humbled by how emotionally invested many readers have become with Fin and her story and I don’t want to let anyone down. So the writing has been a meticulous process of trying to make sure that everything is firing in just the right direction in order to complete the story arc and deliver the emotional impact that I’ve been imagining in my dreams for over a decade. It’s worrisome work at times. And wonderful.

Now the grueling labor of squeezing the first draft out of my head is over and it’s been a relief lately to be knee-deep in the editing. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing, but after 120k words or so of raw creation, it’s refreshing to know that the grunt work is behind me.

It seems like I regularly hear of writers who love the creational phase of writing but loathe and fear the editorial. I’m the opposite. Editing might actually be my favorite part. I love massaging the seams in the narrative and developing characters and scenes that feel anemic or didn’t get enough attention. I love cutting out shudder-worthy adverbs and whittling down those over-written sections to get at their most vital core. I love deleting entire scenes and re-writing chapters. I even love the realization that something I’ve written is a god-awful mess that needs to go straight to the trashcan.

It’s been said that good books aren’t written, they’re re-written. Believe it. It’s tempting to think once the initial writing is finished that the work is done, that it’s good, that it’s ready to be read by others. But it just isn’t true. There might have been great writers of the past that could churn out a brilliant first draft but I think I’ll remain skeptical. (Though it’s hard to imagine extensive rewrites before the computer age, they certainly happened.)

The truth is that, in my case at least, the magic happens in the edits and the rewrites. The story doesn’t really shine until I start polishing it. And when I’ve rubbed the tarnish away and first start to see the luster come through, when I begin to see my reflection in the polish, that’s a great feeling.

So I’m editing these days and I’m beginning to see sparkles here and there. I’m excited. I think there’s a great story at the heart of the mess. There’s certainly a lot of work that still needs to be done, and not just by me, but by my editor and by others who will read and critique and make suggestions. But the physical thing itself exists now; it’s no longer just a figment of my imagination. I can point to it as it lies on my desk and say, “That right there is the manuscript for Fiddler’s Green.”

All that’s left to do is spit and polish.


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