By Rachel Hauck
Yesterday, when I turned in a line edit for The Best Summer of Our Lives, my upcoming 2023 release, I wrote my editor a short note.
“These girls and I need a break from each another.”
Through fast draft and first edits, I thought this book might be one of the best I’d ever written. But by the time I finished the word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence final edit, I wanted to chuck out the manuscript and start over.
The story felt boring and repetitive. The words looked ugly to me. After hours and hours of sitting at my desk in my writing turret, my back ached. My neck was tight.
For me, this stage is the worst part of writing a novel. I call it being “in the weeds.”
When my husband Tony and I first married, he’d walk through the house, see something on the table, and ask, “Who put this here?”
Who did he think? A ghost?
“Me,” I’d say.
Reading through the weeds of a novel, I often ask, “Who wrote that line?”
Me. All me. Only me!
I grimace at the overwriting. I second-guess everything. I delete dialog only to put it back. I try to layer in more of the five senses and end up hitting the delete button. Again.
It may take me six hours to go through thirty pages. Or I might spend fifteen minutes on three paragraphs. I just spent two weeks combing through every aspect of The Best Summer of Our Lives. Compare all that effort to a reader who will finish the book in eight to ten hours.
It’s safe to say, I lose my author perspective while “in the weeds.”
Being too close to a story can cause us to second guess our initial vibe of inspiration and vision for a book.
This is why we trust our instincts, our gut, and our editors.
There are many stages in writing a novel. The thrill of inspiration. The energy of the creative process. The pain of the blank page. The joy of a scene coming together. The relief when the story starts to click.
There’s rewriting, editing, and polishing.
The worst part, in my opinion, is the line edit. This is our last chance to make any significant changes. Echo words are eliminated. Timelines corrected. Motivation deepened. Dialog is fine-tuned. Editors’ questions are answered. Boring prose is axed. The list is endless! The work is tedious!
Yet the line edit is also a glorious stage of the writing process. This is when we can make our stories shine!
Here are a few tips to make the most of your journey through “the weeds” of your novel.
- Make a schedule. How many pages can you work through in a day? Sometimes we can’t help doing a lot of work in a short amount of time. If possible, take a break from the book and come back to it.
- Tighten sentences and paragraphs. I do a lot of repetitive writing to layer in emotion. In the line edit phase, I clean those up. Look for echo words, like when the word “car” appears in consecutive sentences.
- Convert prose to dialog. Sometimes we get caught up in good internal dialog and forget to tell the “story between the quotes.” Dialog is action and it deepens the emotion and tension.
- Take frequent breaks. You don’t have to take long ones, but make sure to get up from your chair. Stretch. Get something to eat and drink. Take a walk around the neighborhood.
- Trust your gut. Don’t be like me and fall for the lie that your words are ugly. (Ha) Be objective, not critical.
- Don’t be afraid to cut things that don’t add to the story. I’ve deleted really great lines because I realized it just didn’t fit the scene or the emotion. Less is more can really apply to prose. So, bye-bye.
- Remember you are not alone. As writers, we battle the same doubts. You are not the worst author in the world. This book will not destroy your career and hey, you’re actually a pretty darn good storyteller!
Go write something brilliant.Rachel Hauck shares tips on how to work the “weeds” of a line edit. @RachelHauck #ACFWBlogs #writetip #critiques #ACFWCommunity Click To Tweet
Rachel Hauck is a New York Times, USA Today & Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author. Her book, Once Upon A Prince, was made into an original Hallmark movie.
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Thoughtful article, and helpful!