Monday, September 10, 2012

Making a Sow's Ear out of a Silk Purse

or The Sheena Method of Editing

Yes, at one point this was cool.
When I was in ninth grade, I wanted a denim jacket. A specific Denim Jacket. It was a casual version of a Leather-man's jacket with blue suede sleeves, and all my friends had one. I told my mom, showed her the exact coat I wanted, and then patiently waited for Dec. 25 when my new awesomely nineties jacket would be unwrapped.

But there was a problem. My Mom and Dad went Christmas shopping together, and while my mom was checking out something for my brother, my Dad took the shopping list and read, "Sheena ~ Levi Coat", and then proceeded to go into the coat section.

There was a lot of bad Levi coats at that time. Really bad Levi coats.

He picked out the wrong Levi coat. This one had patches, and ruffles. In that coat, I'd easily be the fourth member of the Denim to Die For gang.

 Not at all what I envisioned. Afterward, I asked my mom why she didn't stop my dad, and say, "That's a nice coat dear, but what Sheena wanted was this other one." My mom said my dad really liked the coat he picked out, and she didn't have the heart to tell him he chose wrong.

And it wasn't that the coat was so bad, that makes me retell this story some fourteen years later.  The coat wasn't my style, but it would have kept me warm in the winter. It's what happened after they brought the coat home.

Instead of returning the coat, and exchanging it, my mom decided to fix it. She cut the arms off, and then sewed on blue FELT sleeves.


...not what I ...wanted.

 I remember being very cold that winter, as somehow the hybrid coat would go "missing,"  or when I had to wear it, the wind blew through the stitches.

I have a couple of stories currently in my hard drive like that coat.  Weird hybrids, that have gone through one editing pass too many.

What happens, is the final product isn't exactly what I had envisioned. Instead of using my mad editing skills to make the story the best it could be, I cut huge chunks out of it, or put some random slant on the thing, making it into the new idea that I had. I create a weird hybrid of a story that must be killed.

This is why I hate second drafts.

I've discovered this happens because I'd decided to follow one of the many rules of writing that are prevalent online for writers. Finish a story and let it sit for six weeks. 

For me, this is a creating...rule.

The problem is in those six weeks of waiting, I have six weeks of new story ideas. So when I come back to the story, I'm out of the mood of the POV, I lose the voice of the character, and I end up trying to make the story into something else.

...not what I...wanted.

Now I'm not saying you shouldn't write a second draft, what I saying, is "Sometimes what works for Steven King won't work for you!" That's okay. You can make your own rules. And here are mine.

Rule Number One of the Sheena Method of Editing-  Do not step away from the story. Revise while you still love the story. Don't quit while you are still motivated. Only step away from a story when you are done, and step just so far as to put it into the hands of a publisher.

Rule Number Two. Don't let other peoples opinion change the story. Sometimes people who crit a story have brilliant beautiful ideas, and you can tell, because you as the author, think it's brilliant or beautiful.  Other times their opinions don't feel right for your story. You don't have to listen to anything anyone says. You are the boss of your story. Other peoples input can help, but only if you decide to accept it.

Rule Number Three- Tell your own story. What you write might be a sow's ear, and try though you might, you can't make it into a silk purse. That's awesome. If you are a silk worm, make silk purses, the world needs more silk purses. But if you are a Sow, then friggen make BACON! The world needs more bacon. Don't try to be a different writer than you were born to be. Don't be ashamed of your own words, your own experiences, or your own genre. Lay them out the best you can, and don't try to copy another person's style.

Because a story that works, even if it's not exactly what you wanted to tell, is better than a weird hybrid.

Tell your own story, make it the best you can, and then walk away.

What I'm Reading Now - The Bartimaeus Trilogy Book One- The Amulet of Samarkand, Jonathon Stroud.
What I'm Writing Now -  End of the World Challenge


  1. First of all, I love your jean jacket story, too funny. Secondly, your editing advice rocks!! Seriously, all of it. I love it.

    I too ignore the six month rule. If I'm still excited about the story, I'm going to keep working on it. Why lose that momentum?

    Great Post as always.

  2. Six months? Wow - I thought 4 weeks was bad! I've learned to be critical of 'rules' in writing. Well, except for grammar ;)I like to think of writing as a type of art - opinions vary greatly and what is right for some, definitely isn't for others.

  3. You are too funny. And correct. Love your advice.
    o/t, saw you're reading Bartimaeus. Great voice in that story. Hope you enjoy.

    1. I really liked it, although the jumps in timeline bugged me, and I'm not at all clear of what time period the story was written in. But all in all, a great book.

  4. That was a great story, Sheena. You are constantly cracking me up with your posts. And while sometimes I need the space between me and my stories, sometimes I probably would do better to edit right away. Great advice!


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