Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Creative Process.

Oh how I hate my manuscript right now. Don’t worry, those exceptionally kind people who have pre-ordered the book from Amazon, I have every faith the final book won’t make me want to go after it with a carving knife. But the stage we’re in right now is ripe for metaphor; it’s the transition stage of labor, it’s your eighth-grade school picture, it’s 85% of your Internet dating experiences. It’s that ugly and awkward. Right now, splayed obscenely all over my kitchen table, is my manuscript. It has been to the copy editor and it is filled with red marks, all of which I have to consider. Did I mean to use the word “Clearly” that often? I didn’t realize I had but now that you’ve circled each and every one, I’ll find a synonym or two. Did anyone teach you grammar? Copy Editor, it’s a valid question, but you have to understand that I went to elementary school in the seventies when grammar was deemed to interfere with self-esteem. I do have an old copy of “Free to Be You and Me,” if that helps. What’s with all the italics? They make me feel warm. And so I sit, hunched over my manuscript, fixing, endlessly being reminded of my cavalier attitude towards comma placement.

But I’d spend all eternity making my manuscript readable in English if I could just avoid the content notes. My editor got the copy-edited manuscript the same day that I did and must have thought “Gracious, this book is being filed under ‘Comedy’ and yet it has all the buoyancy of a matzo ball. Must…give…book-saving…notes…”

So drizzled across my table-spread manuscript are the emails I’ve gotten from my editor over the last few days with such terrifying and open-ended comments like “I think this could be funnier” and “Find the guffaw here. I know there is one” and “Is this what you meant to say?” Who wouldn’t love someone so eager to help them find their personal best? Me. I stare at a note about how I should make a paragraph funnier and I actually start to pass out, the tunneled vision seeing on the words “Funny” and “Could be better”. Yes, it could be funnier, we’re all in agreement about that, but let’s stop to consider something. I’ve been writing this book for over a year; I’ve been writing this blog for over four years; I’ve been leading this life for over forty years. If I’ve put in up to four decades considering the humorous potential of some aspect of my life and have yet to find it, perhaps we need to look into outsourcing. There must be someone in Mumbai who can come up with a quirky yet wise spin on my person struggles.

In the meanwhile, I am going back to work. Not for me the soothing aloe of a blog, a thousand words or so on how I feel about toast and naps and we're done without rumination. Instead, I will spend the rest of the week constructing a sentence here, a digression there, mining the bit of funny that I hopefully have left to seed throughout the book. And then I will eat toast and have a nap.


Anonymous --Deb said...

Hang in there. And, if it makes you feel better, I have indeed pre-ordered a copy from Amazon and after reading this post, have no desire to rush back and cancel it. I'm sure it will turn out wonderfully. (But, no pressure!)

3:41 PM  
Blogger Dodi said...

Just tell them that these are your "signature" moves. Like how Jen Lancaster has her foot notes... you do the other quirky stuff like use "clearly" and italics.

Don't lose YOU in their edits. (Not to pressure you or anything...)

CLEARLY dots are my signature thing!

3:42 PM  
Blogger Char said...

I can't imagine how difficult that is....I try to write and it just comes out in sodden bursts of snotty prose with the humor sucked out of it. I'm much funnier in person.

Here's to hoping the notes don't beat ya up too much.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Ken said...


I subscribe to a newsletter from Sean D'Souza on marketing. This week's installment was called, "Let's just make it down this hill, Mr. Frodo." One step at a time, and you'll be finished.

BTW, as a former copy editor, I apologize for my brethren.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Sara J. Henry said...

Writer Michael Robotham (THE SUSPECT, LOST, SHATTER) told me that you’re always going to hate your manuscript at some point – he likens it to spending too long in a pup tent with a loved one. Which is greatly comforting on those days I intensely dislike my own manuscript.

But sometimes you can break grammar rules for your own personal style, especially for first-person manuscripts – I’ve edited books where we completely disregarded some of the “corrections” the copyeditor was apoplectic about.

So don't "overcorrect" so much that it doesn't sound like Quinn!

4:23 PM  
Blogger Sara J. Henry said...

But this I have been wondering about: why you have a period at the end of some of your post titles, but not others.

4:47 PM  
Blogger CDP said...

I admire you. I shrink from editing my papers for school; I'm not sure I could face doing a whole book. I can't wait until it's out! (no pressure)

4:49 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Oh Quinn, Dodi and Sara are right! Feel free to ignore the copy editors suggestions and notes that suck the life and individuality out of your writing. It's not a textbook or technical manuscript-- it's a book of personal essays, for cryin' out loud!

I'm sure the warmth, charm and accessibility of your writing style is a big part of why you landed a book deal in the first place; there's no need for you to sacrifice that in order to conform to AP or Chicago Style standards.

And what kind of editor offers content notes like "I think this could be funnier" without any additional help or suggestion?? Not a very good editor, I'll tell ya that much. I think she could be a better editor. So there.

You're in the home stretch. Stay true to yourself, your voice and your own writing style. Don't let them throw you for too big a loop or inspire too much self-doubt. They're your thoughts and words, expressed in your own unique style. And there are many of us who are eager to read them, exactly how you wrote them.

Trust yourself, and listen to your heart. Change what feels right to change, and stick to your guns about what's already right, as is.

And play your copy of "Free to Be You and Me" and sing along to the parts that make you happy. Or let Rosey Grier tell you that "It's All Right to Cry," if that's what you need to hear. I think I still know most of the Mel Brooks/Marlo Thomas baby sketch by heart.

Kudos on your accomplishment. You're almost there!

8:27 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Hopefully, none of the copy editors out there will ding me for the missing apostrophe in my second sentence. It should have read "Feel free to ignore the copy editor's suggestions and notes..." D'oh! :)

8:47 PM  
Blogger bethany actually said...

Wow, that all sounds challenging. I can barely do all that on a blog post. I have the utmost respect for someone willing to do it for a whole book.

Good luck! I am really looking forward to reading that book I pre-ordered. :-)

11:33 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

I just hope you're coming to Seattle on a book tour. I'll buy you a . . . piece of toast?

12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Filed under "comedy"? Really? Your writing is indeed funny, but it's so much more. I second other commenters here and say, yo, don't force the funny at the expense of all that heart that's also there. Trust yer gut. And, speaking of Mumbai, take a break and go see "Slumdog Millionaire." That'll put things in perspective.

4:15 AM  
Blogger Pamela said...

Hi Quinn,
I absolutely love your writing style. It's very easy to read and understand. Please remember that we love your style and I think that "we" (your audience) matter more than some twit editor.


7:28 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

What Suzanne said. Don't let them edit out your personality. Part of what I love about you is that you can be sort of poignant in your humor. If you go for straight laughs, the depth vanishes. And if this editor has neither pets nor children, then I beg you to ignore him/her, because he/she will not get most of what's actually funny about your writing anyway.
So yeah, make a clean copy, put on your own editor hat, and see which points have merit and which are just trying to push and mold you into the literary equivalent of the Backstreet Boys. It's not as though, at this point in the game, with pre-sales already sold, they're going to say, "hey, you know what? never mind." Do not forget that you are an equal partner in this. OH, THAT'S IT! Here's what you do: respond to all edits as though they were written by Consort. That should put you in the exact right frame to receive edits. :)
Hang in there; like transition, the worst part comes just before it's finally over.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Ainslie Place said...

Speaking as a writer I can tell you that there are some copy editors on my magazine that I prefer to work with than others.

I will get galleys back with ridiculous comments and questions that leave me wondering whether he or she really read the story. I'm working on a story now that talks about two services that are complementary. One question was "How does B relate to A? I'm not getting it." But in the copy it says, "The two services complement each other..."

So there are copy editors and then there are good copy editors. The really good ones are your partners in writing. The not so good ones like to think they have the last word over what you've written.

This, too, shall pass. Definitely advocate for your work because it's your name on the cover, not your editor's and not the copy editor's.

It's like having a baby (theoretically). Once you see the book on the shelf in the bookstore, you'll forget about the pain.

Hang in there.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Linda said...

The closest thing I've written to a book is my dissertation. I can still remember the humbling pain of "is this really what you want to say?" No, I just spent the last few months agonizing over that sentence for my own enjoyment. It does end. Looking forward to your book.

2:37 PM  
Blogger LiLu said...

Hi Quinn, I've been reading you for over a year. I think I've commented once or twice- the idea of your must-be readership is daunting- but I just wanted to say, although I know the light at the end of the tunnel isn't visible right now... I KNOW the end product will be one of my very, very favorites. And I am so grateful to you for going through all of this work, just so I can have a day or two of belly-aching laughs and relatable moments, before passing it off to everyone I know.

Love you writing. Love your work...

Glad you're around.

3:17 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

This post made me laugh out loud.

Wishing you success in getting past the finish line.

Remember what a professor of mine taught me (hough your editors probably won't concede to this at the moment, it's true),"Better done, than perfect."

10:38 PM  
Blogger Swistle said...

I'm not sure which is the worst/unhelpfullest comment, the "I think this could be funnier" or the "Is this what you meant to say?" Both of those instantly make me want to SMACK someone. Instead I am eating cookies. I recommend this treatment plan to you as well.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Dawn Maria said...

I just finished going through the copies of my novel that I had given to two readers. Talk about red marks! I am in the AP class for missing letters, wrong words and misplaced modifiers. I was mortified by how much I missed in my own editing. Had I sent these copies to an agent, I would have ended up in the slush pile in seconds. In appreciation to my two readers (who are still speaking to me, God bless them) I'm buying them Starbucks for the rest of their natural lives.

Hang in there Quinn, you are an incredible writer and I can't wait for the book. Please come to Phoenix on your book tour!

9:22 AM  
Blogger Marilyn said...

Hi Quinn - new to your blog, but as a mother, blogger, and dishwasher-monitor, I instantly feel your pain. I won't tell you "keep going" - because, you know, you have to - but I will say keep it up. Clearly, you're onto something good.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Lauri Hahn said...


I can't wait to read your book and am thrilled to hear you're getting so close!

On similar topic, a question: would you consider posting that list somewhere in your head of must-have children's books? You mentioned the List on one of your posts but didn't go into detail. I'm a 40 something mom of a nearly 3 year old girl and would like a more concise list of titles to consider. I stand at my local retail wall of choices and sort of twitch in a mind-numbing & overwhelmed disengagement.

Would you consider posting recommendations based on your humble and beloved opinion?

Many thanks,


2:10 PM  
Blogger torontopearl said...

Hi Quinn

Suzanne had great words of wisdom, as did just about every other one of your commenters. This is YOUR book, it reflects YOU...not the copy editor, not the editor, not even the publisher. They have to respect that.

As a copy editor for over 20 years, I can say that more than anything I respect an author's voice and message. The key is to GENTLY guide an author along to the finish line. Yes, don't just say what's wrong, but do say what's right, and give suggestions to help right a wrong.

It is hard to write, it is hard to edit. Keep stepping away from the ms. and then come back to it with fresh eyes. You'll do just fine.

And if you ever need a gentle copy editor, seek me out and ...I'll hold your hand.

7:59 AM  

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