Friday, March 18, 2011


Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing. ~Enrique Jardiel Poncela

True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.
~Alexander Pope, "An Essay on Criticism"

These quotes resonate deeply as I’m still obsessed with the fine-tuning of stories while I twitch and fiddle with my picture book manuscript, THE FLUTE, due out this Spring with Tradewind Books.

It seems to me that a good story is like a beautifully decorated and harmonious room.

What you don’t notice is the work that went into it.

Imagine it – an empty room. Imagine the wall colours, the furniture. The floor. Will you pick carpet or wood? Or marble? Imagine the swatches you bring home and try out in every light, the arguments with your spouse and kids, the vacillating mind about which colours and floors to pick. Imagine acquiring the right pieces of furniture, the hours and days or weeks of shopping, getting it delivered, moving the pieces around until they look just right, arranging and re-arranging, then hunting for those accessories that please your eye. Why are they so hard to find? How can it take days to hunt down the perfect candlesticks? At last you've found them. You place them here. No, perhaps there. Imagine the mess as there's stuff everywhere and nothing looks right and you wonder why you bothered to start in the first place.

Oh, but then you find the perfect rug, only now the furniture isn't quite right, so you'll have to change that and find pieces that work in the new plan. Aaaaargh. But you love the rug and it's perfect so...deep breath. Here we go. Again.

Gradually, there is a sense of order. The furniture in place. The pictures on the walls. Which ones will you hang, and where, and how high? Now you look at the whole and perhaps there are a few too many knickknacks? Perhaps you need to take a few things away?

You’ll probably leave it for a while, so you can see it with fresh eyes, perhaps even consult others whose tastes you trust – maybe an interior decorator – if you haven’t already done so.

When you’re finally done, you fill in and repaint the holes in the wall where you nailed the pictures before moving them, wipe the smudges off the walls – those damn fingerprints and pencil marks – put away the ladders and tools, vacuum up the mess, straighten the pictures, twitch the ornaments just so and curse that this fiddling process takes so long. So damn long. Finally you decide that's it, or perhaps you must stop because you had a deadline...those guests to dinner...but you must find the right coloured candles, dust, shine, polish.

Oh, if only you could stop fiddling. Just that shift of an ornament here. A teeny bit there. No, it was better before. LEAVE IT, ALREADY. It's time to say DONE.

You're exhausted. But the room looks great. Everyone says so. When the guests walk in they exclaim and admire. So harmonious, so clean. The flow of energy is just right, do you know Feng-shui? They're charmed by it all. Oh, and they just love glow of the candles.

They don't know what you put into it. The time, the energy and angst. The fights, the fatigue. The agonizing over minutiae.

No, they don't know see the work that went into it.

Sound familiar?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Pains and Perils of Reviewing Proofs – Part V

It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Fat Lady Sings

How do I know when I’ve finished reviewing the proofs?

When the fat lady sings.

That’s me screaming when the publisher tells me it's all over, that I can't make any more changes. When they pry my hot little hands off the manuscript.

Which is all very traumatizing.

And a huge relief.

And did I say traumatizing?

And a relief?

Upon which I go and sink my face into chocolate–lots of it.

And wine–lots of it, too.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Pains and Perils of Reviewing Proofs – Part IV

No Sentence is an Island

Ah, this is one to remember when you review your proofs. NO sentence is an Island (my apologies to John Donne.) I have, at times, fiddled endlessly with one sentence, to get it just right.

But there are several pitfalls to watch out for:

A sentence can be well-crafted, but not fit in your particular piece because it doesn’t flow from and into the sentences before or after. This can be because the sentence length is too similar to the ones around it, or because the cadence or music of the words just don't sound right. No sentence is an Island.

A sentence can be well-crafted, but that particular perfect phrasing may not be true to your character’s voice. It must reflect the character, or be consistent with the narrator's voice. No sentence is an Island.

A sentence may be well-crafted but does it inadvertently repeat words in the sentences around it? No sentence is an Island.

When reviewing proofs, or for that matter, during any stage of editing, it's important to resist the temptation to over-fix a sentence. To remember the context.

Or to employ another metaphor, remember to look at the forest, not just the trees.