How Writing is Like Combing Your Hair, Sort Of
There are many stages in the writing process. There’s the glittery, I’ve just fallen in love and all of this is SO wonderful stage. This is where words fly off your fingertips, ideas come when you’re trying to fall asleep, and most of your friends get a glazed look on their faces when you ramble on about random plot elements. This is the part of writing that can get you addicted. It’s wild, it’s like caffeine and adrenaline mixed into a yummy cocktail and can I have another one of those, please?
Fortunately, this stage doesn’t last very long. You’d think it would be perfect, if only you could capture this feeling and keep it in a bottle, like lightning bugs. The thing is, not everything that comes out on your computer screen during this stage really makes sense. Some of it is a little bit disjointed and crazy.
It will have to go through another stage first before it sparkles. This next stage is a little bit painful. It’s where you need to look at your work like a reader, instead of a head-over-heels-in-love-with-my-own-creation writer.
For a long time, I’ve thought of this second stage almost like combing your hair. If you’ve ever had long hair, you know that mornings aren’t fun. You wake up with a snarled, tangled mess of hair. It can hurt to straighten out that hot mess. The comb acts like it hates you, snagging on knots that you can’t even see. If you go too fast, there’s a big OUCH waiting for you.
So, at this point, I try to look at my work from a different angle. If I’ve been working on a computer, I print out the pages. I even lay out the document in a graphics program (QuarkXPress), so it will look more like a book. Another trick you can try is to email your story in a Word document to your Kindle. Every time you read your book in different format, it will force you to see it in a new way.
Things I look for include: sentences that sound too much alike, bad rhythm, too much information, not enough information, scenes that seem to have more than one central focus, places where I get bored, characters that aren’t responding correctly, dialogue that feels off, and long scenes where there’s no dialogue.
This is a process that I repeat throughout the writing of my book. I mark the snags and tangles, go back and do my best to fix them, print out the corrected pages and read through them again. Every time, it feels like I’m combing my hair. With each pass, the comb goes through a little bit easier, my hair starts to look a tiny bit better, and I think, hey, this is working!
Because I do this throughout the process of writing, by the time I’m completely done with my ‘first’ draft, it usually doesn’t take a lot of editing. I can almost always finish my final round of edits within a couple of weeks.
Of course, then there is the next round of edits that I get from my agent and my editor. Those usually require a jackhammer, a couple gallons of Coke Zero, and a series of frantic emails and phone calls to my writer pals where I ask them why I ever thought I could write. It can even turn into an existential crisis at that point. But I try to take a few deep breaths and let some time pass. Because I know that if I can make it through this last stage, there will be this thing called A Real Book.
The Real Book stage? That’s the absolute best part. It’s the reason I got started in this business in the first place. It’s pure magic, it’s starlight and fairy wings and feet that can’t touch the ground.
In fact, it’s so amazing, it makes you want to start all over again and write another book.
Born in the Midwest, magazine editor Merrie Destefano currently lives in Southern California with her husband, two German shepherds, a Siamese cat, and the occasional wandering possum. Her favorite hobbies are reading speculative fiction and watching old Star Trek episodes, and her incurable addiction is writing. She loves to camp in the mountains, walk on the beach, watch old movies, and listen to alternative music—although rarely all at the same time.
Connect with Merrie online:
The only rule is: there are no rules.
“Merrie Destefano weaves magic.” —Rachel A. Marks, author of Darkness Brutal
Yesterday, Rachel went to sleep listening to Taylor Swift, curled up in her grammy’s quilt, worrying about geometry. Today, she woke up in a ditch, bloodied, bruised, and missing a year of her life.
She doesn’t recognize the person she’s become: She’s popular. She wears nothing but black.
Black to cover the blood.
And she can fight.
Tell no one.
She’s not the only girl to go missing within the last year…but she’s the only girl to come back. She desperately wants to unravel what happened to her, to try and recover the rest of the Lost Girls.
But the more she discovers, the more her memories return. And as much as her new life scares her, it calls to her. Seductively. The good girl gone bad: sex, drugs, and raves, and something darker…something she still craves. The rush of the fight, the thrill of the win—something she can’t resist, that might still get her killed…