Writing: the Garret and the Cellar

You might have noticed. I’ve been off-line for a long, long time. Unfortunately I didn’t do a luxury cruise on the Queen Elizabeth, or go trekking through the Andes, or cycling through Province. Nope, I’ve been in the cellar with one of my manuscripts.

Don’t you just love scribbling away in the writers’ garret? Creating, creating. Spinning lovely word tapestries that seem so clever and amusing and well-crafted at the time. Ah, the freedom of self-expression, the association of ideas, the vivaciousness of the characters!

Then, you write that wonderful little three-letter word: END. And it’s finished, your manuscript. You can print it out and hold it in your sweaty hands. All that thought and work and time and sacrifice. Yes, sacrifice. While you were writing, did you remember to visit your friends, or feed your cat, or get some exercise other than tapping your fingers on a keyboard?

And is it the end? I mean, really the end?

I wish.

That brings me to where I’ve been these last months. In the cellar.

It was bleak and cold and lonely down there. Not much creative light to keep me nourished.

In the cellar, I had to dissect my work and put it back together again. Critically, dispassionately. I tried to breathe life into one of my point-of-view characters who was suffering from a severe case of cardboard-cutout-ism. Eventually I realised the syndrome was terminal and I had to euthanize her. Poor Rebecca, may she rest in peace.

After the restructure (and Rebecca’s symbolic cremation) I performed the mind-numbing exercise of line editing. Read a chapter; mark the words/sentences that are so bulky and cumbersome you trip over them; rewrite them in a light, sparkling and witty manner; reread and repeat the process.

Search and destroy: words that I overuse, clichés, lazy words that should be substituted, trying to find an elusive and magnificent word to replace the banal one I’d written.

A writing buddy read the first chapters of my manuscript and said, ‘You’ve got an awful lot of ing-words.’

Ing-words, they creep in without you noticing (there’s one of the little buggers now). So I did a search and found a zillion. I gritted my teeth and set to work methodically from the very start of the manuscript. And what did I discover? One of my all-time favourite lazy-words was thing (and all its lazy variants: nothing, something, anything). I found 320 of the little critters in my 90,000 manuscript. I swear they’d been breeding like mosquitoes throughout summer. Now it’s down to around 90, and those are meant to be there (rather than tossed into the bowl like a limp bit of lettuce because I couldn’t think of a better word).

Anyway, now I’ve finished and have crawled up into the light. Better still, now my wonderful manuscript is truly at an end … for now.

Next step? Submit. Might need anti-depressants for that one.


About Debbie Terranova

Debbie Terranova is an Australian author of contemporary and historical fiction. 'The Scarlet Key' published in 2016 is the second Seth VerBeek mystery. The crime-busting reporter is back with a new cast of unforgettable characters and a new puzzle to solve. It's about live, love, death, and tattoos, with a touch of the mystical. 'Baby Farm', her debut novel, is a cozy crime mystery about forced adoptions of the 1970s, and a surrogacy and baby trafficking racket. It is the first of the Seth VerBeek series. Debbie Terranova is a prizewinning author of short stories: 'Mowbray Brothers' about growing up in East Brisbane in the 1920s; and 'Mischief' about reinventing yourself and in the process falling in love ... with an adorable but mischievous cat.
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