Skip to content

If something stands out in your writing, remove it

Crafting a novel takes place through the process of rewriting the book. The first draft is only a framework of the story you want to tell. Some beginning writers run their first draft through spell check and send out the manuscript, thinking they are finished. This is a mistake.

Even this article has gone through eight rewrites. After putting down ideas I wanted to discuss, I reread and edited the first draft, changing words here, taking some things out there and adding new material where it was needed. This was followed by a second edited draft with more changes as I looked for the exact words to use while making certain that the points I wanted to express were clear. After the eighth draft, I posted the article.

Of course, you also need to check for misspellings, typographical errors, missing words and other grammatical problems. I’m always shocked by how many times I can reread a manuscript I’ve written and come across a sentence such as, “They walked into building” when I intended to write “They walked into the building.” My mind subconsciously added the word the each time I read the piece. Sometimes these things go undetected until after the manuscript goes to my editor.

This is one of the reasons why anyone who intends to write professionally must hire a professional editor and not just have a friend or relative look over the work. Your friends and relatives may not be trained and experienced in editing manuscripts and they will usually tell you that the writing is wonderful because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Worse yet, some writers send out manuscripts without having anyone else look at them.

Those who want to write on a professional level must invest time in rewriting. Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

There are many things to consider when rewriting. In the end, the writing itself must disappear to reveal only the story and the characters. A book can present themes and ideas, but without a story that involves readers in the characters, the book becomes a lecture and not a novel.

When readers pause to say, “Wasn’t that a clever turn of phrase”, they are taken out of the story and slammed back into their ordinary lives, dispelling the suspension of disbelief that is essential in storytelling, which must immerse readers beyond distraction.

Here is a good rule of thumb. If, in rereading your work, you come across something that stands out and causes you to become conscious of the writing itself, remove that word, phrase, description, piece of dialogue or characterization. If you noticed it, so will your readers. The story will stumble and any points you wanted to make will be interrupted.

Professional writing is not an academic excursive in showing off how much you know about writing craft, it is using the craft of writing to reveal the material with such impact that the physical presentation becomes invisible. Mark Childress, author of Crazy in Alabama, says to “Kill your darlings.”

Writers may believe that they can’t remove material because they might not be able to think of something else. In truth, writers have an inexhaustible source of material within themselves and their imaginations to create new prose that describes characters and situations. Others hope to impress readers by demonstrating a command of language. This is like drawing a set of gorgeous drapes across a picture window and blocking the view from outside.

You are the first editor in a rewrite, and you must be ruthless with yourself. Fight your ego if it tells you to keep material that does not serve the telling the story or the revelation of the characters.

David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman overcoming prejudice and searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a world of gender equality where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority. The second volume of the saga, Half Awakened Dreams, will be released on September 21, 2020. He is a member of the Writers' Union of Canada and the Canadian Freelance Guild.

Are women in the workplace the latest Covid-19 casualty?

I listened to an extremely horrifying and enraging story on the CBC radio program, The Current (https://tinyurl.com/ycujk8dq).

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, a woman who worked in an office could not find child care for her two children. She contacted her employer and offered to work from home. The employer told her not to worry and to just take care of her children. After hearing nothing back, she called and was told that they could not wait for her to return and had replaced her. Her employer never bothered to call. Now, she is without a job and has just bought a house.

Even after the gains of the feminist movement, women continue to experience prejudice and discrimination in the work place and are still considered to be the primary care giver for children. In the 1950s, some companies would not hire married women and expected single women who got married to leave the company because it was assumed that they would soon start a family and take on the responsibility of raising children while the men worked.

The action of the employer above has the potential to stigmatize all women in the work force. It is possible that some companies will use the pandemic as an excuse to exclude women and refuse to bring them back after the pandemic is over because of a fear that women will be pulled from work duties by family obligations. Such discrimination can be subtle, yet devastating.

As a man who raised a son as a single parent, I know firsthand that this assumption is unfounded. Men and women are both nurturing, yet we live in a society where gender roles are set in many minds that pressure men to work and women to care for the home and children. My son once fell ill during the work week and I called in sick. My employer told me to get a sitter and come to work because I was a man. The absurdity of finding any sitter who would care for a sick child is bad enough. The lack of humanity in recognizing that a sick child wants a parent, not a sitter, is worse. Women encounter this attitude constantly.

Even though two income households have become a necessity in our current economic reality for many just to make ends meet, women still suffer unequal treatment, a lack of opportunity for advancement and make $85 for every $100 a man earns for doing the exact same job, according to figures from the United States Census Bureau, even though women have proven, time and again, that they are capable of performing the same duties as men, including in strenuous professions such as firefighting, for which some men once argued, falsely, that women did not have the required strength. The gap is even greater for women of color.

Covid-19 is exposing many broken aspects of our society and economy, from hellish conditions in long term care homes that have existed for decades to homeless people incapable of escaping the virus and for people in the lower socioeconomic strata who have been affected in disproportionate numbers. Now, a roll back of the gains for women in employment could become the latest casualty.

Governments need to enact legislation immediately that protects workers affected by unforeseen disasters like pandemics so that they will have jobs to return to when the crisis is over. This is becoming its own crisis, on top of Covid-19. The jobs of both men and women are threatened, and women may experience the greatest impact.

David A. Wimsett was the head of a computer consulting firm for several decade and managed many women and men over the years. He is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman overcoming prejudice and searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a gender balanced world where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority.

Handling Rejection as a Writer

RejectionNo one likes to be rejected. It has a string. People are social and want to be accepted, yet in relationships, business and school, everyone has experienced rejection. It can feel like a personal attack on ourselves and our values.

But, artists, writers, film makers, composers, actors, musicians and others who create and present works to the public must break past this concept and recognize that a rejection or criticism by an individual is just that, one person’s opinion.

For writers, they may feel that rejections by agents, editors, publishers or magazines are a comment on their character. This is not the case. The people you send your queries to are publishing professionals. Though they love books, they are running businesses whose existence and viability are the mechanism by which books reach the reading public. If a publishing house or magazine prints too many stories that don’t sell, they could go out of business and the authors they represent would be left with no distribution. These companies must select material that is not only the best writing, it has to sell and satisfy readers.

There are many reasons a book, short story, poem or article might be rejected. It may not fit the style of a particular magazine or publishing house. Many agents, editors and magazines work in specific areas. A great book about winter vacation spots in the Caribbean will not be picked up by an agent or editor specializing in children’s stories. That’s why it’s so important to research the kinds of work each magazine and publisher accepts.

Another reason is that they may already have too many similar works at the time or they may have a backlog of stories and are not looking for more.

It may also not be that your submission is not written at a professional level. In this case, the rejection is for the work, not you as person. The story or article may need to be improved or you may need to enhance your writing skills.

Most rejections tell you little or nothing as to why the work was not accepted. You will see phrases like, “this does not fit our current needs.” You will often be wished good luck in placing your story somewhere else. Neither of these things do you much good. Sometimes, however, you will get feedback. This can be a gift, and you should consider it carefully.

When I began writing, I was not producing award winning material. Very few beginners do. Writing involves craft that has to be learned and practiced constantly, often over many years.

One agent did me the biggest favor ever when he rejected my submission. He said that I included too many step-by-step descriptions of action that did not move the plot forward.

For instance, I might have once written something like, “George received his bank statement and saw that the service charge was double what it had been the month before. He walked out of his house, got in his car, and drove downtown. After parking his vehicle, he got out and walked into the bank with the statement in his hands to confront the bank manager.”

The only point of this little scene is for George to see his bank statement and to then go to the bank to discuss it.

Today, I would write, “George received his bank statement and saw that the service charge was double what it had been the month before. He went to the bank, statement in hand, to confront the bank manager.”

That agent told me something about my writing that I did not realize. This allowed me to examine my own skills and improve them. Some people would be angry that they were rejected. I can never thank this agent enough for his rejection because it allowed me to become a professional writer and author.

I have had writers say to me that their material was “Their baby” or “Their blood upon the page.” It is neither. What you write is just a piece of work and it either communicated your ideas effectively of it didn’t. If it didn’t, it needs to be fixed. Still, writers can expose themselves in their work. Even if a piece of writing is not autobiographical, the emotional reactions of the characters are often drawn from the writer’s own life experiences. Still, it is the presentation of the art that has been rejected, not the artist.

Don’t think of rejections as an attack on you. Try to learn from them. However, don’t make changes to a manuscript based on every rejection or comment. Examine each and determine if they expose a problem in your writing or if they are just personal opinions based on someone’s taste.

Certainly, there are individuals who make personal attacks on creators. The best thing to do in those cases is to ignore the comments. The same thing applies to people who criticize your themes and ideas that they don’t agree with. Those themes and ideas belong to you and you have to accept that anything you write can create controversy. Never reply to a negative comment on social media or elsewhere and never respond to anyone in defense of your writing. It can only start a war. Just let people say what they say and go on working. However, in instances of slander and liable, you may want to seek legal advice.

A very good book for writers is Rotten Reviews by Bill Henderson. This little collection of negative reviews covers works by authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Jonathan Swift, Virginia Wolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. The book is not only amusing, it is an assurance to writers that not every opinion or rejection is well placed.

David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a gender balanced world where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority. Half Awakened Dreams: Volume II of the Carandir Sage will be released at the end of Summer, 2020.