Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Step Away From the Red Pen

 by Tracy Kiely

            Knowing when to stop is a problem that I am quite familiar with – on many different fronts. I don’t know when to stop talking. I don’t know when to stop being a wise ass. I don’t know when to stop redecorating. (Our dining room? I’ve painted it six times. My husband won’t let me in the room unescorted anymore.) There have been times when I didn’t know when to put the chardonnay down and step the hell away. I can’t tell you how many times I didn’t know when to stop mindlessly grazing like a cow out in the cold (Yes, that’s a real thing. Like any decent author, I Goggled it. So there.)
            Based on this radically abbreviated list of examples of my lack of self control, you probably won’t be shocked to learn that knowing when to stop editing is something I struggle with as well.
            I constantly reword sentences in my head – many times, long after the I’ve turned in a book. I will read passages from my books that are published, and I still find myself mentally editing them.
            It’s really annoying, actually.
            I constantly tweak, reword, play around with adjectives, and generally wear out my thesaurus. If I didn’t have a deadline, I’d never turn anything in on time. (If my editor reads this, she will no doubt spit out her coffee in surprise that I consider my submissions to be even remotely on time.)
            My only “tell” that I have that alerts me that it’s time to put down the red pen, was given to me by my first editor. She told me, “When you find yourself swapping the same two words over and over again, it’s time to stop.”
            I’m glad she had told me this, because on my first book, I did just that. I read the draft and changed this one sentence. Then I read it again, and changed it back. And then I did it again. And again.  It became a kind of obsession, as if by getting that one sentence just right, I’d ensure the success of my book.
            The funny thing? I can’t even remember which sentence it was.
            So, I think when you find yourself reworking the same passages, and not really doing anything other than tweaking a few adjectives, or worse, just one word, it’s time to stop, and hit the “send” button.
And then? Take a moment to celebrate your hard work! Have a glass of chardonnay, pat yourself on the back, and be proud.

And then go repaint the dining room, because that color is hideous.  

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