Posts Tagged ‘revising’

Ilana’s Little List of Superfluous Words

November 11, 2013

Hallelujah! I’m almost at the end of my latest round of novel revisions.

And once I’m done with the substantive revisions, I’m going to try something new — a Microsoft Word “search” for superfluous words.

Noodling  around in the manuscript, I’ve noticed that there are certain words that add little or no value. Sometimes they are “hedge” words that undercut what I’m saying. Other times they state the obvious. Or they are just a flabby cliche.


I don’t notice these words when I’m writing a first draft; they roll easily off my pen. They seem so natural that I don’t notice them on reading the completed manuscript, either. Thus the computer search.

Prime example: suddenly. 

I use a lot of suddenlys!  My characters look up suddenly. They put down their forks suddenly. They hurl chairs suddenly.

(Have you ever seen a chair hurled in a non-sudden manner? Now that would be an adverb worth using: “He hurled the chair gradually.”)

So I’m starting a list of superfluous words that should be weeded out. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • suddenly
  • somewhat, some
  • sort of, kind of
  • little
  • simply
  • just

Here are a few examples from different sections of my manuscript:

“What does Marta have to do with this?” her mother asked with some bewilderment.

There were more stars in just one small corner of the sky than you could see over all of Manhattan.

I felt suddenly uneasy. 

I jerked my head around, suddenly paranoid, and shoved the boa back inside the bag.  (Well, maybe I should keep that one. I’ll think about it.)

Talking with my lawyer friend Beth yesterday, she described routinely excising certain words when editing her colleagues’ briefs. In her case, they are legal jargon like heretofore.

I suspect every genre of writing – every profession – needs its own unique blacklist of superfluous words. Every writer should probably have her or his personal list too: The flabby words that slip into my draft may be different from the ones that slip into yours.

How about you? Any words that routinely roll off your pen that should be rolled off to the landfill?


How much bigger is an empty nest?

July 21, 2012

All year I’ve been moaning in this blog about Daughter’s impending departure for college. Loss, separation, passage of time, reminder of mortality, and so on. But in fact, I also spend a fair amount of time thinking about all the things I’m going to do once she’s gone.

Measuring a bird’s nest in the tundra / Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

I’m going to cook kid-unfriendly vegetables like kale and cauliflower and cabbage. I’m going to sign up for a boot-camp program at my gym from 6 to 7:15 on weekday mornings. I’ll go to movies. To synagogue. To First Friday art walks in Oakland. Sam and I will bike from winery to winery in Sonoma. I’ll go on countless Audubon field trips….

Above all, I’ll return to revising my novel. I’ll work like a maniac, like life is one non-stop writers’ colony, and resolve all the plot and character problems, and bang that sucker out. I thought about it a lot this spring when I found myself the underachiever of my writing group, feeling guilty for not producing new drafts or rewrites: Just wait until September, then I will be amazingly productive….

It occurred to me the other day that September — the empty nest — has become an Emerald City. It’s shimmering in the distance at the end of the road. Magical things will happen. The Scarecrow will get his brains, the Tin Man his heart, the Lion his courage. Ilana will get the time and focus to finish her novel.

So then I started to wonder, Just how much more time will I actually have? 

It’s not like Daughter is still four years old and needs me to play with her and bathe her and read stories at bedtime. In fact, most of the time  she’s out with friends or in her room with the door closed. She makes her own lunches and does her own laundry. I don’t even need to drive her around anymore, since she got her license last month. Some days we hardly say twenty sentences to each other.

How exactly is she keeping me from working on my novel?

The critic in me says that she isn’t keeping me from the novel; I’m keeping myself. Revising is hard, I feel stuck on certain things, and she’s simply providing a good excuse not to deal with those challenges. I already have a relatively ideal situation for writing — a half-time job, and a beach house “retreat” that we share with friends and thus have access to every third week. Why aren’t I writing my little fingers off right now?

But in fact, I do believe that having a child at home tends to consume one’s attention, even if that child is an independent teenager.

Having a child — particularly for women, I think, but maybe for some men too — colonizes part of your brain like some alien Star Trek spore. A whole section of your brain is roped off with “seat taken” signs. When your child is nearby — even shut in her room texting friends — millions of your neurons are firing away non-stop on autopilot, vigilant for sounds of distress, sounds of happiness, sounds of misbehavior. When all this is going on, it is hard to summon up the level of concentration needed to work on a novel.

What will change when Daughter is gone:

  • I’ll feel free to spend four-day weekends at the beach house. With Daughter here, I don’t like to be away overnight. But once she’s gone, I can join Sam there on weekends and then remain there writing by myself on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • I’ll have uninterrupted early mornings. I can wake up at 6 a.m. and get right to work.  No half-listening for sounds of showering, dressing etc. No need to remind anyone that they need to be out the door in ten minutes. No driving anyone to BART. By 9 a.m., I can have three hours of work under my belt.
  • I can work evenings without a chunk of my brain hovering down the hall to see if homework is really being done, chores have been completed etc. (This is after Sam and I eat our kale-cabbage casserole,  of course.)

So yes, I think I will have more time for writing when she is gone. Or at least more focused time for writing.

But still, I wonder if I am heaping too many expectations onto September. If I’m slipping into a bit of magical thinking. The Emerald City shimmered from a distance but the Wizard turned out to be an ordinary man with no special powers.

How many ambitions can one empty nest hold?

My favorite place to practice chanting Torah…

September 12, 2011

… is the beach.

I did this when I was preparing for my Bat Mitzvah service, and I’ve been doing it again with the portion I’ll be chanting on Yom Kippur morning.

Stinson Beach / Photo by Becca Schuchat

Stinson Beach is long, wide and mostly empty, even on weekends. It takes me 45 minutes to walk to the end, and then another 45 to walk back. I take my iPod with our cantor’s recording of my portion, and I walk along and listen and chant. None of the other beach walkers seems to notice or care, and it’s much safer than the other place I practice chanting — in the car.

Don’t even ask about that. One of these days I will rear-end someone, and when the officer eyes me suspiciously and asks if I was texting while driving, I’ll say “Of course not. I was chanting.”

Learning to chant a Torah portion is different from anything else I do in my daily life.  It involves spoken sounds rather than written words. It’s not intellectual or analytical. There’s no tangible, material goal like there is in writing a news story or cooking a meal or planting zucchini.

It’s harder than simply learning to sing in a foreign language. When I listen to pop songs in Hebrew or French or Spanish — the foreign languages I sort of know — the choruses tend to stick in my head. They repeat, they rhyme, they use familiar daily sentence structures. All of that makes them easy to remember.

Fog and sun / Photo by Becca Schuchat

With Torah, the grammar is often archaic and convoluted. (For instance, the Torah typically uses future tense when it means past tense. Why? I’m sure there’s a historico-linguistic reason, but no one has told me.) There are weird sentence constructions, and obscure words like “ephod” that don’t exactly pop up in daily conversation.

The melody shifts back and forth at random between minor and major keys. There are no patterns of repeated melodies, no rhymes, no ABAB CDCD verses and choruses. It would be a lot easier if God had hired Woody Guthrie and the Torah read, “This land is your land, this land is my land, from the Jezreel Valley to the Jerusalem highlands.”

To be fair, there is the skeleton of a system.  A limited number of melodic phrases are used again and again in chanting Torah, and there are symbols to represent those phrases (cantillation). Sometimes the melodic phrases even correspond in a systematic way with certain points in the text, like the ends of verses.

But it’s still a lot less systematic and structured than modern pop songs or western classical music or the various bits of poetry we all had to memorize in grade school. And for a relative beginner like me, it remains pretty inscrutable. So I turn on my iPod, listen to the cantor, and imitate what she does. Phrase by phrase, line by line. I look for familiar words and am ecstatic when a difficult, unfamiliar word turns out to share a root with a word I already know. Those words are like rafts in the middle of a long, exhausting swim.

Andie at Stinson / Photo by Becca Schuchat

Between the Torah portion I learned for my Bat Mitzvah service, the one I learned for a service in July, and my current Yom Kippur portion, I’ve now done this enough that I can see a pattern in how I approach it.

Phase 1: Feel overwhelmed. (“How am I going to learn all that?”)

Phase 2: Take it one phrase at a time.

Phase 3: Get enough phrases down that I can chant a verse or two without getting stymied.

Phase 4: Learn enough verses to realize I am almost done. Yay!

That last phase is the one I’m in now, having learned five of six verses pretty securely. At this point it becomes fun. I find myself humming the melody without thinking about it. I can go back to some of the more troublesome lines and make sure  the phrasing and notes are exactly right. I can start to think about the meaning of the words while I chant them rather than just worrying about what the next word/note should be.

It occurs to me that this, in a very abbreviated way, is the same process as revising my novel. I’m in the overwhelmed/one-step-at-a-time phase with that right now. I still haven’t worked out my problems with the middle of the manuscript. It just occurred to me this morning that I may need to completely overhaul the ending. I hope sooner or later to reach  the point I’m at with my Torah portion — where the big, blunt work is done and I can relax and focus on making the phrasing just right.

Huh. What was that I was saying about this having nothing in common with the rest of my life?

Muddle in the middle (of my novel)

July 24, 2011

I’m trying to improve the middle of my novel. When I realized it needed revision, this was the section that called out, “Lifeguard! Police! Somebody! I need help!”

I feel confident in my beginning. And I love my ending.  So it’s just the muddle —  I mean ‘middle” — of the book that needs work.

This isn’t an uncommon problem. Lots of writers run into problems with middles. (Well, so do lots of non-writers but that’s a different kind of middle and it can be addressed through exercise and Weight Watchers.)

James Scott Bell, in his book Plot & Structure, writes:

Writers sometimes refer to the infamous ‘Act II problem,’ which boils down to this: How do you keep the reader interested through that long portion of the novel?

Photo from

In my case, I’m still trying to diagnose the problems. I’ve got a bunch of scenes that seem to cascade without enough emotional differentiation. The movement is all in one direction – down, down, down – rather than down-up-down-down-up etc.  There are also probably too many instances where I describe something rather than show it. And feedback from my writing group this week made me take another look at my main character, who may be too passive and just drifting along with events in this section.

Next month I’ll be attending the Squaw Valley Community of Writers – a weeklong conference with dawn-to-dusk critique sections, writers’ panels, workshops, and readings. I’ve heard wonderful things about it and am looking forward not only to inspiration, but perhaps to some discussion of muddled middles.

In the meantime, I turned to my shelf of books about writing and then to what I could find about “middles of novels” on the Internet.

(Classic Web moment: You do a search for “middle of novel” and get a lot of responses that have to do with NOVELS for MIDDLE school students.)

The two best Web posts I found on mid-novel muddles are by a fantasy writer named Hilari Bell. I’d never heard of Bell, and her books aren’t the kind of thing I normally read. But one thing I’ve discovered is that good advice about writing transcends genre. You have to do a little mental translation while you read – a thriller writer may be talking about external threats from terrorists, while your literary novel may involve an internal threat from a failed relationship – but if it’s good advice, it works anywhere.

One of Bell’s posts that hit home for me is about inactive protagonists. Another is about “middle of the novel mud.” They’re somewhat related in that they focus on the need for the main character to act, not drift:

The middle of the novel is, notoriously, a place where writers get bogged down…. Generally, it’s either because they don’t have a big enough problem to drive a whole novel or because their main character is just wandering around while the story happens to them.

This overlapped enough with the comments from my writing group to spark a little “ah ha!” moment.

Now on to some middle-of-the-novel wrestling — or would that be “mid wrestling?”


Coming Attractions: I’m very excited about my next post — another rabbi interview, this time with Rabbi Andrew Straus, the new senior rabbi at Temple Sinai. I’ve already done the interview, and should be able to post it sometime this week. Stay tuned.

Smashwords, self-publishing and self-awareness

May 11, 2011

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was starting to educate myself about the emerging world of e-book self-publishing.

As part of that, I wrote a freelance piece for the Chronicle’s business section this week on Smashwords, a Silicon Valley company that has become a leader in enabling writers to easily self-publish e-books.

You can read my Chron story here.

Meanwhile, I had a great session with my writing group last night where they offered some on-target criticisms of a section of my novel. It clarified some significant problems with it that I need to fix.

This is such a tricky judgment to make when dealing with rejections: Is the problem with “the system” or with my work? Them or me?

You look at your work, over and over, and it really looks fine, and it’s so easy to blame others.

The fiction marketplace sucks these days…. the publishing industry is too focused on blockbusters…. or whatever.

When in reality, you need to do another rewrite.

What did I just say? “You” need to do another rewrite?

I mean: Me.

Self-publishing becomes an option

April 10, 2011

The timing has been interesting. Just as I’ve been collecting rejection notes for my more recent novel, there have been a spate of news stories about the increased profile and viability of self-publishing.

You probably know the old image of self-publishing. It was called the “vanity press,” and people paid a lot of money to publish a hundred copies of a book that was too lousy for anyone to want to read. The image was like going to the high school prom with your brother as your date — in a word, loser.

But technology — in particular, e-books and print-on-demand books that can be sold online — are changing that.

Two events that recently made headlines in the publishing world, and even rippled out into the broader media:

One of Amanda Hocking's e-books

  • Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old unknown writer from Minnesota, started selling her paranormal young-adult novels online in March 2010. She priced them really low, from 99 cents to $2.99, and sold them primarily as e-books through Amazon and other sites. By the end of 2010, Hocking had sold 164,000 books. In January 2011, she sold 450,000. Last month, she signed a deal for over $2 million with St. Martin’s Press for her next four books.

Barry Eisler's new e-book

  • In March, best-selling thriller writer Barry Eisler turned down a $500,000 deal from a conventional publisher to self-publish his own books. This was a man-bites-dog story: In the olden days, someone would have self-published with hopes of moving on to a conventional publishing contract. But here someone with a solid track record in conventional publishing was leaving a six-figure contract to go the solo route.

What’s happening with all this? Basically, the development of Kindles, Nooks, iPads and other devices for reading digital manuscripts has created a viable market for e-books. And when people can download books rather than buy paper copies, it  cuts out a lot of overhead and middleman costs — printing, distribution, etc. — and allows authors to sell directly to readers through sites like Amazon.

The economics change. Former literary agent Nathan Bransford has a good blog post on this, where he notes that in traditional publishing, an author typically gets 10% of the list price of a hardcover or 7.5%  of the list price of a trade paperback. By contrast, e-books that are self-published and sold on Amazon give the author a cut of 70% if the list price is between $2.99 and $9.99, or 35% if the list price is above or below that window.

So say you go the traditional route and publish a hardcover book that lists for $25. You would get $2.50 for every copy sold.

If you self-publish that same work as an e-book on Amazon for $9.99, you would get $6.99 per copy.

That difference adds up. Selling 10,000 traditional hardcovers would give you $25,000 in royalties. Selling 10,000 self-published e-books would give you $69,900.

That’s just a random example — there are of course lots of details that vary by publisher, price point, format etc. And the self-published author has to pay costs such as copy editing, book jacket design and marketing that would be covered by the publisher in a traditional arrangement.

But even so, there’s the potential for a lot more profit with self-publishing. There’s also more room for an author to exercise control over the design and publishing process. And in reality, authors have to do most of their own marketing these days — even with a big, respected publisher — so in that area, at least, there is less of a gap between self- and traditional publishing than there used to be.

There are of course a zillion mucky, tarry pits that one can fall into with this. The folks out there shouting “Huzzah! Now anyone with a keyboard can be a successful author!” are being either naive or duplicitous. The two big hazards of self-publishing are quality and marketing.

Quality: Without agents and editors to vet and polish manuscripts, it’s possible to publish things that are not quite ready for prime time — or are just plain garbage. Most of the self-published stuff on the web right now is badly written, cliched, and filled with grammar mistakes and typos. Even Amanda Hocking: I’ve only glanced at the first pages of a couple of her books, but I hope that one of the things she gets from her $2 million contract with St. Martin’s is a good editor.

The upside of self-publishing is it gives authors more control over the final form of their work. The downside is that some authors really should have less control over the final form of their work.

And then marketing: So you self-publish your book, list it on Amazon, create a lovely web page for it, hold a book party with 40 of your dearest friends and… then what? How do any readers ever learn about your book as it swims little circles in the vast Pacific Ocean of published and self-published stuff?

There are more than 100,000 books put out by conventional publishers each year, and probably hundreds of thousands more being self-published now. So anyone contemplating self-publishing better enjoy marketing and have a darn good plan to make their work stand out.

Where does this all leave me? I’m still in the investigating-and-learning phase, trying to figure out what is involved in doing a good job of self-publishing. I recently joined a self-publishing group at the Mechanics’ Institute Library in San Francisco, where a bunch of writers bring in a guest speaker each week to talk about some aspect of the self-publishing process.

I’m also not sure how to determine if/when my novels are ready for self-publishing. Over 20 years of newspapering, I got used to having editors — some authority figure who reads what you turn in and says “yup, good to go,” or “nope, go back and re-work that lede.” I can certainly hire a freelance editor to go over my novel manuscripts, but there’s still no one in charge other than myself to say “good enough!” and give a final thumbs-up.

I’ve spent the past year trying to be self-critical as part of  revising my work. How do I know when it’s time to shift from the self-criticism of rewriting to the self-confidence of publishing?

So there are lots of questions, both for me personally and for this nascent industry as a whole.

But the main point is — self-publishing is now a viable option.

It may not be the equivalent of going to the prom in a limo with the high school quarterback, but it’s no longer going with your brother.


P.S. Want more info? Check out this excellent interview of both Hocking and Eisler by San Francisco literary agent Ted Weinstein.

A small and obvious but useful writing idea

February 13, 2011

I’ve been working on revising and fine-tuning Novel # 2, even while starting to query agents about it. But one thing that I’ve found challenging about revision is retaining the whole shape and structure of the book in my mind. It’s hard when thinking about a 300-page work to grasp the ebb and flow of the entire thing, or even sometimes to remember what happens after what. This particular book goes back and forth between two different periods in time, which makes it even more challenging.

This week I tried something new — putting chapters on Post-It notes! — and loved it. Here’s a photo of what I did:

Novel revision by Post-It note / Photo by Ilana DeBare


Each pink Post-It note is a chapter taking place in 1985-6. Each blue Post-It note is a chapter taking place in 2008-09.

This is hardly new. Writers and doctoral students have been doing this with index cards, Post-Its and other pieces of paper for ages. I think there’s even software that allows you to do something similar.

But it was new to me, and very useful. It makes it easy to visualize the work as a whole. It makes it easy to move chapters around. Plus there’s a very visceral, hands-on, arts-and-crafts sense to it. It’s like making a clay ashtray or a beaded bracelet. My book becomes an actual object I can shape and sculpt.

So much of writing is in your head or on a screen — but here I get to play with pretty colored paper bits, picking them up and moving them around. It’s like the craft shed in summer camp! It probably brings a whole new set of brain cells into the mix.

No earth-shattering observations here. Just a useful idea — where writing craft may actually benefit from  a touch of arts-and-crafts.

Modeling failure

May 6, 2010

I was at a wine and cheese fundraising reception for the Julia Morgan School for Girls last night, and ran into an old friend who asked me what I was doing. 

“Writing novels,” I said. 

“How’s it going?” he said. 

A year ago, I would have said “GRE-E-A-T,” with a Tony-the-Tiger kind of roar to my voice. And a year ago, things felt great. I had one completed draft of a novel under my belt, and was steadily churning out the initial draft of a second one. Things seemed pretty much on track with the vision I had when I left the San Francisco Chronicle in late 2008: Put the finishing touches on Novel # 1, send it out, start Novel # 2, get a contract for Novel # 1, then polish up # 2 so that once # 1 was published, I had another one ready to go. And do it all within two years.

Of course, things haven’t worked out quite that way. I do have a draft of Novel #1, and have sent it out to a bunch of agents. And last summer I completed a draft of Novel # 2. 

But Novel # 1 hasn’t been cooperating with its part of the plan. The agents all rejected it, offering pretty reasonable criticisms. I’ve been working for the past few months on revising it. It just won’t budge.

I work for days to uproot and replant whole sections of the book, and then realize I have barely trimmed a hedge. Or I make changes, but then put things back the way they were. Or I work and re-work  my notes to a point where I can’t remember why anyone would even want to read about these miserable, spoiled, whiny characters. 

So things are not feeling so Tony-the-Tiger GRE-E-A-T these days. When my friend asked how things were going, I said: 


Now, one of the things I have always loved about writing fiction is that it’s all up to you. Unlike a Hollywood movie, you don’t need a million-dollar production budget. Unlike a rock song, you don’t need any musicians to perform it. You don’t need expensive supplies or a specialized workplace or a travel budget. You just need your brain. Because you get to make everything up.

The wonderful thing about this is that if you create something, it is totally your creation – gold out of straw.

The downside is that if you fail, there is absolutely nothing to blame but your own meager brain.

And it’s possible I may be looking at complete and utter failure here. I’m starting to consider that possibility. Maybe I just can’t do this. That feels pretty awful to think about.

But strangely, there was also something that felt liberating about saying “shitty.”

Sometimes I think I put up an inhumanly bright face to my friends. When they ask how things are, I say “great.” I’m fine. Sam is fine. Becca’s fine. Our cat is fine. And in fact, I do have a wonderful life – health, love, economic security, even some luxuries. But I suspect that people get tired of hearing that. 

It felt refreshingly honest to be able to say that my writing was going shittily. And to put it that crudely – not to tiptoe around with “Well, it could be going better” or “I’m feeling challenged.” Just to say it outright: Shitty.  

And I think it may actually be useful to model failure. 

At Julia Morgan, they try to teach the girls to take risks (the healthy kind!). The teachers and staff model risk-taking by trying new things themselves. And the culture around us tells us endless stories of big risks that lead to brilliant success, from The Blind Side to Bend It Like Beckham.   

We are less likely to acknowledge that risk-taking sometimes leads to failure. A good portion of the time, in fact, it leads to failure. But failure is not the end of the world. 

So perhaps what I am doing is modeling failure. There! I can feel good about myself as a positive role model – middle-aged woman quits good job to pursue a dream, gives it her all, doesn’t manage to pull it off, but is nonetheless alive and happy.

Isn’t that a good spin on a bad situation? 

Still and all, I’d rather publish a novel.

Food photos and literary cocktail chat

April 7, 2010

Two quick links to share:

(1) Given all those photos I posted over the weekend of Passover desserts, I was struck by a story in the New York Times today about people who take photographs of all their meals.  Using an iPhone or digital camera, they photograph and post pictures on the Web of everything they eat, from gourmet meals to bowls of cereal. Some manufacturers like Nikon are even selling camersa with special settings for photographing food.

The Times offered some hypotheses about why people seem to be taking more pictures of food these days: Technology like cellphones and tiny digital cameras makes it easy. Our society has become obsessed with food as status symbol, or definer of identity.

But what about these reasons:

Unlike wildlife and children, food doesn’t move when you try to photograph it.

And I’ve never yet gotten red eye on a picture of meat loaf.

(2) San Francisco literary agent Nathan Bransford, who writes a blog about the publishing industry, had an entry on Tuesday that hit home so much with my current situation that I am going to reprint the entire thing. It’s called “The Way Cocktail Parties Really Should Go.”

Person #1: Wow, you’re a reviser? A published reviser??

Person #2: Yeah. I’ve revised five books now.

Person #1: Oh my god!! I can’t believe I’m actually talking to a published reviser!! How glamorous is that?

Person #2: Well, it’s hard work actually. I put a lot of time into my revisions.

Person #1: But to see your revisions on the shelf? What is that like?

Person #2: I’ve been revising since I was twelve, so…. it’s kind of a dream.

Person #1: Wow. Aren’t all revisers super rich?

Person #2: Not really. You’d be surprised at how little revisers make. I still have a day job, though of course the dream is to be a full-time reviser.

Person #1: You know… I’ve always thought everyone has one revision in them. Someday I’m just going to sit down and revise my memoir.

Person #2: Well… revising isn’t that easy. You don’t just sit down and revise, you should really study the craft.

Person #1: Oh nonsense, how hard could revising a book be?

Person #2: Would you look at that, my drink is empty. I’d better head to the bar. Nice meeting you. Good luck with that revision.

I love it!!!

Nathan’s blog is useful and interesting nearly all of the time. If you’re an aspiring book writer or just plain curious about how the publishing world works, it’s worth checking out here.

Emerging from the valley of (writerly) death?

March 25, 2010

I just had a terrific meeting with a friend who read my manuscript and gave me feedback.

I’ve had a bunch of people read it now – those five agents, the freelance editor, a couple of friends, my husband. The multiple readers have been helpful in that there were definitely some common themes in the things they didn’t like about the book. When you hear the same criticism from so many people, including the person who loves you the most, you have to take it seriously.

But in other ways, their feedback left me stymied. Some of the advice was conflicting; the more people that I heard from, the more confused I got. Some of the advice just plain seemed counterproductive. And sometimes I felt like I was being told to write an entirely different book, one that I never really wanted to write. 

Fuff Tabachnikoff  – the friend I saw this morning, who happens to be a terrific artist whose work you can view here – also offered up a suggestion that would drastically change the book and require a ton of rewriting. 

But for some reason, her idea fit. It felt in line with what I originally wanted to achieve. It felt like it would be fun to write. It felt exciting to think about. 

One thing I’ve learned from this about being an editor: It’s important not only to figure out whether a book has a workable plot, characters, tone etc. To be really helpful, you need to understand the author’s personal vision and goals for the work. So that the suggestions you offer will be ones that don’t simply make a better book — they make a better version of the book that the author wanted to write.

In any event,  I think I see a path out of the valley of (writerly) death. I’m going to start to flesh out what a revised plot would look like, using Fuff’s suggestions. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t; I’ve been thinking about it for a whole 20 minutes so it is too soon to say. 

But at least I’m excited about making changes for the first time in months!