Thursday, June 30, 2011

On Learning to Write

This isn't BSP (blatant self promotion)--it's relative to the point I want to make, which is I apprently don't know how to write yet. I have been a published author for over 30 years, with 60 or more books to my credit if you count all those children's nonfiction books I did on assigment. But I've published fiction and nonfiction for adults and young readers, even a cookbook.
Now I'm writing mysteries (I have mentioned the forthcoming Skeleton in a Dead Space, havene't I? yes, I think so:-) I am doing the final edits on my second mystery manuscript, and the publisher's instructions are to search for those pesky adverbs by looking for words ending in "ly." I did and it was a humbling experience. I found I overuse the word "really" to an unbelievable extent, and "only" isn't far behind. Reconstructing sentences without those words was a challenge but fun. Then I moved on to the next search--for the word "had" to find passive voice. I could not believe the number of times "had been" appeared in the manuscript. I still have "was" and "ing" words to go. So far it's a humbling experience, which leaves me wondering if all my previous books are filled with those grammatical errors. I'm afraid to look.
I do have to say that looking searcing for these things is a long and boring process, so much so that sometimes my mind goes blank. But I'm persevering. When I finish, I still have to read the manuscript yet one more time to make sure I haven't introduced new errors in the process of correcting old ones. By the time I'm through, I'll be able to recite the darn thing from memory.
But the whole exercise is one of the best I've ever heard of for checking your manuscript. Thanks to Kim at Turquoise Morning Press for coming up with it.
The manuscript hasn't actually been accepted yet, but I have a proposal in and am quite hopeful. Keep your fingers crossed for me. The title of this one is for now No Neighborhood for Old Women. Yes, that's a spoof on Cormac McCarthy. When I began writing the manuscript, he had just turned down my good friend Marcia Daudistel on her request for an excerpt of his writing to include in an Literary El Paso, an anthology of the work of El Paso authors. I came up with the title off the top of my head, and she hooted with delight. More than that about the book, it's too soon to say. If it's accepted, I may have to change the title.
A food note: I know, I have a food blog but I can't resist sharing my menu tonight: a ground lamb patty with feta and chopped mint in it from Central Market (actually I ate about a third of the huge pattie) and fresh corn, cut off the cob after I boiled it, and mixed with salt and a bit of chiffonade of basil--no butter. So good!


Suzanne Barrett said...


Love your book titles! I understand the frustration of eliminating the adverbs and passive verbs. I'm better at it than I was, though I probably allow more 'lys' than you.

The lamb pattie with feta and corn sounds wonderful. I make a fresh corn salad using a chiffonade of fresh basil (from Ina Garten's book). Here's to great writing and eating!

Judy Alter said...

Thanks, Suzanne. I 'll look up Ina Garten's recipe. I was trying to figure out her potato salad as I watched her today--looked like it had chicken broth and white wine. And thanks for liking my titles--they've always been hard for me. Yes, to great writing and eating--and cooking.
I do Potluck with Judy on Sunday evenings and Wed. evenings--you might like it.

Ellis Vidler said...

I went through a similar exercise with my publisher. Even though some of the words belonged, it's daunting to see all those highlighted words. You're compelled to try and do something about them. Take heart and keep plugging!

Theresa Grant said...

I love those title too!

Taryn Raye said...

Oh, Judy! I felt the same as I was going through my m/s for Kim. It is a daunting and humbling activity! Though I turned in my manuscript the other day, I have several other manuscripts I'm going to begin working through with the same self-editing process.

It definitely helps clear the clutter, even though I sit there with cheeks of crimson when I stumble across a page full of those dreadful adverbs and passive verbs! LOL

I had to smile at your description of reworking the sentences without those words and well, just all of it because I felt the same frustration and embarrassment. Wonderful post!