Recognizing the Weeds in Your Garden

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Lessons are sometimes hard to accept especially when they beat up your pride. Recently, I submitted a story to an anthology. It was a story about vampires and werewolves. Not my usual topic of horror, but it was for a good cause. I wrote the story in a few short days, read it over, edited, and proofread. Had a buddy read it, and he loved it. I loved it. I submitted and then saw a problem. I was jumping from one tense to the other…sometimes in the same sentence. Some of my earlier works were the same way and I thought I had pulled that weed from my garden a long time ago. No, there it was. I rewrote and resubmitted thinking I had a very well written story. Weeds hide.

A few weeks later the story was edited and I received a personal message from the editor. She liked the story but said my mechanics were all wrong. She was exhausted from all the edits she was finding. In the business they call this type of story, dirty. Not because of smut but because of edits. Lots of them. She was making it bleed. I pictured my story dripping red blood and a vampire sucking in all the droplets. No way could she be editing my story, I thought. Not my perfect story of death and blood sucking. There has to be some mistake. The mistake was all mine.

She was working on a deadline for the anthology and had many more stories to edit. On mine she was only on page five with six more to go and already the pages were more red than white. She told me she was just going to manually make the changes and then submit to me the finished story for my approval. She said that was the quickest way. I agreed to it.

My perfect story about Count Dracula was no longer the work of art I thought it was. It was a red mess. My pride was hurt. I blamed no one but myself. Like the Captain of a ship, the author, is ultimately responsible for the content of everything they publish.

When I was a child I use to help my mother pull weeds from our many flower and vegetable gardens. As a weed puller I had to tell the difference between the plant we wanted to grow and the weeds. Needless to say, I made my share of mistakes. Far too often I pulled the plant rather than the weed. My mother would inspect my work. She knew where she planted the flowers or vegetable. She would show me were the plants were or would have been. She would also show me the weeds I missed. She did not do this to be critical of me, but to teach me. I learned and soon became here trusted weed puller. Once I learned what was suppose to be there it was easy to tell the difference.

In comparison, editing a story is a lot like pulling weeds. Once I learn how to structure, form, and manipulate a sentence I can produce something with clarity.

I spoke to another editor friend who gave me some advice.

1. Go over the story at least 3 times on your own, (some writers told me seven times).

2. Read it aloud. By reading it you hear the structure and flow.

3. Then send it to a proofreader. The reason for a proofreader is to catch what the writer missed. We writers are to close to our work. We live and breathe it. We used this word or that because in our thinking it fit and said what we wanted to say. The proofreader is like my mother who knows what fits and what doesn’t.

There are many books out there on this subject with authors better equipped to offer advice on editing than I. As for me, I’m going to slow my pace down. As I write I’m going to be looking for those weeds. Then I’m going to keep looking and read aloud.

As my mother would say, “You missed one, it’s a weed now pull it.”

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