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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Eliot

The Thing About Changes...

Hi friends.

I'm pleased to share that I'm able to write this post tonight because I've completed the first pass through my novel working with my wonderful mentor and have made all of the great changes she suggested. For the most part, it was a very smooth and enlightening process. A time or two I was more stumped than I'd ever been, but even those were great learning experiences. (I always roll my eyes when saying things along the lines of "every challenge is an opportunity!" but in this case it was very true.) So because I'm through that first round of mentorship edits, I've given myself a little room to breathe, a chance to NOT think about those characters for a minute, a chance to connect with you, and a chance to reflect about the strange and wonderful world of...editing!

My writing process is similar to documentary filmmaking. Shoot a TON and find the real narrative as you edit. You end up with a LOT of extra footage and it takes a lot longer, but the creative process can be pretty fantastic. So I write and write and write without thinking about structure, conflict, character arc, know, all those things that should be strong in a good book. The main reason I do that is so I don't stare at a blank page and think myself into not getting anything written. It's a world of YES where I follow instinctual storytelling, get into the mind of the characters and just riffing on the page. The challenge with that is I have experienced the book from the trees and not the forest. And when I zoom out to get a look at what the book looks like overall, it's overwhelming to me. I have no real sense of it. I started off a sketch writer. My brain can only process the structure of an eight page scene! This is why having an experienced mentor has made all the difference.

The good news is that my many years of collaborative writing--especially working with a lot of comedians who rarely pull punches--is that I have a very thick skin and am not at all afraid to make changes. Back in the day at The Second City Detroit, I pitched a song about the opening of Comerica Park that was based on Ascot Opening Day from My Fair Lady and it ended up being a soulful Motown-style opening number with not one of the original lyrics in it. Still, I was thrilled to perform it and watching it morph was a pretty cool experience. So I'm not afraid to embrace the changes. That really helped in this first collab with my mentor. She didn't burn it to the ground, but there were some decently central changes to some of the characters and their story lines that I had to get good with to move forward. And once I did, I made some huge discoveries and even put more of myself into a book that has a ton of me in it.

The bad news is, the further away you get from the original, the less sense you have of the flow and what's working. You may even change initial exposition that the audience really needs to get on board. For example, my kid told this joke the other day "why did the chicken cross the road? Because he wanted to get fried by the frying pan". Now of course, in the typical version of this joke, the chicken is running away from the frying pan, hence crossing the road, but my kid had told it so many times, like a game of telephone, it morphed into a masochistic chicken. So if I say, "well, let's change it to 'he DIDN'T want to get fried by the frying pan'", now that's a new joke. And then I might go back and say "fried by the frying pan is redundant" and I might just say "He didn't want to be in the frying pan" and now it's diluted further. And then if I'm worried about word count in my joke I might cut out some of the set up. And in the end I end up with a joke that's...

Chicken, road? Fried.

Not funny. And what the hell are you talking about?

Sometimes that's my concern with a big edit for a manuscript. Thankfully, I've formed more avenues to get other eyes on the work. Before it was simply "welp, I made the change and I think it's good". Now I have a critique group and a few beta readers, as well as a kickass mentor to run things past. I guess it takes a village to raise an author.

Now that my big changes pass is done, I have to address that word count thing that I mentioned earlier

. I have a tendency to write lots and lots of WORDS. This book was the first that was an actually marketable length. And now the edit has added 7,000 words! My next task is to get my comb out and fine tooth that bad lad to kill some bulk. But I've read that book so many times now, that I just needed a break.

Hence this blog post.

Thanks for the diversion, friends! Back to it (gulp).

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