Friday, August 20, 2010

Listen to Nagging Whisper (or Whatever You Call Her)

That well-rested manuscript I had once declared finished...well...it wasn't. Even though I pitched the novel to an editor at a writers' conference in March, something held me back from sending a partial. It was tiny Nagging Whisper who told me: "It's not ready."

Nagging Whisper has a thin face with a pointed chin and sharp little nose. She disapproves of my writing habits, and doesn't hesitate to criticize, but I put up with her because she's very wise.

I set Wishing Caswell Dead aside and wrote the first draft for a new novel (which is now resting while I do other stuff).

Four months after that conference pitch session, Nagging Whisper made a suggestion. "Go back to the Caswell novel. Change main character Jo Mae's point of view to third person."

"I'm listening," I said.

"Keep Jo Mae's voice in her narrative."

"Wow, that could be a little tricky." Well, maybe not. To a certain extent, I had already done that for the other characters' point of view chapters. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.

"I'm not finished," Nagging Whisper hissed. She can be a little testy if she thinks I'm not paying attention. "Comb through the whole novel again. Look for overused words, passive verbs, and overlong passages of narrative."

"That's silly. I know that stuff. I teach courses on self-editing, for Pete's sake."

Nagging Whisper snorted. Then she cleared her throat. "Frankly, I would never have known. Your manuscript is full of stupid little errors. Maybe you should hire a real editor."

Fearing I'd be totally embarrassed to give my work to a real editor if it was as bad as Nagging Whisper said, I decided to revise and then self-edit one more time. I made the changes from first person to third person in the Jo Mae chapters. And then I read the first chapter out loud.

Overused words (real, just, some, surely, and right) jumped off the pages and waved frantically to get my attention. How had I missed them before? Gerunds and passive verbs were sprawled everywhere, most bored, but some even snoring. Impossible. That's not the way I write. Passages of narrative begged for dialog. What was I thinking?

Even though the waving, snoring and begging from the pages of my novel are annoying, I want to thank Nagging Whisper for persuading me to let the manuscript sit on the shelf instead of rushing to submit too soon. And I'd like to give her a hug for suggesting I work on the main character's point of view.

I'm getting the work done. It feels great. This is why I recommend:

1. Listen to Nagging Whisper (or Muse or Spirit or whatever you call her...or him).

2. Always let your manuscript rest several weeks before you do your final self-edit. A couple of weeks is not enough.

3. If you plan to self-publish, hire a professional editor to fine-tune your work before you proceed, even if you think it's perfect.

17 comments:

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

Enjoyed this post!

Nagging Whisper visits me every time I haul out a story that has been "resting" and think it's ready to submit. After listening to her comments, I have to wonder why I ever thought the story was ready before! Back to revisions...again!

Talli Roland said...

Great tips, Patricia. Sometimes I wish my Nagging Whisperer would be quite but I know it's usually there for a good reason!

Jan Morrison said...

Wonderful stuff! I love your Nagging Whisper but Gwen and I both agree it wouldn't be good to hug her - just an acknowledgement of her superiority would be good! Hugging might be a bit icky for her.(we think) Jan Morrison

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad you caught all that stuff!

Karen Walker said...

Gotta love Nagging Whisper, even while we hate her/him/it/whatever. I'm starting to include the critical comments that come in while I'm writing. Then I go back later and deal with them.
Happy your writing is progressing so nicely, Patricia.
Karen

Terry Odell said...

I've been hearing some of those whispers about a book I've set aside. Maybe I should listen.

Terry
Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Patricia Stoltey said...

Good morning, everyone! The worst part? It's never really over. Once the manuscript is in an independent or house editor's hands, there are bound to be more revisions and/or edits.

And you still need to read the edited novel, the copy-edited novel, the advance review copy, and the final book, looking for errors that have slipped in during the editing process. I know one writer who received a box of books with the last page missing. Honestly, there's always something.

Ann Best said...

This is GREAT.

Right now I'm working through the overused words, especially the word then. This forces me to see how the sentence can be improved. I now think I'd better look for the words you mention.
I don't think I have a problem with passive verbs, and I use a lot of dialogue. But, your wonderful post says how difficult it is to see our own writing. I'd definitely hire a professional editor if I were self-publishing!!

Clarissa Draper said...

Doing that is so important. I think if we ignore the voices, our story suffers.

CD

welcome to my world of poetry said...

A wonderful post Paticia, enjoyed everyword.

Yvonne.

Jemi Fraser said...

I think I need a visit from Nagging Whisper too :) Great advice to set it aside for a bit and look at it again.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patricia - Thank you for those lessons! Nagging Whisper is indeed wise. Thanks for the reminder to listen. And I've also found that setting aside a manuscript, even for a short time, is helpful.

Hart Johnson said...

I think mine is a mooning snark, but I think your POINT is fabulous. You have to be patient and keep listening, and FINALLY the suggestions will come as to how to make it stronger. I'm glad it worked!

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Nagging Whisper works for me! Great post. Thanks for the reminder of what we all know and at times ignore!

Sylvia Dickey Smith

A War of Her Own

N. R. Williams said...

Nagging Whisper assumes many identities including real people sometimes, like other authors who are friends. Great post.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

arlee bird said...

Sounds like some very good advice from someone who would have every reason to know. Thank you.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Cruella Collett said...

I agree with putting it away for a few weeks. It's what I do (if possible) with my thesis chapters. After a few weeks they sometimes will have turned from dung to doable....

I think your Nagging Whisper sounds very wise. Mine is generally too negative for me to approve of her decisions...