My three little boys are very vigorous tub-takers. They jump, splash, stick things to the walls, and in some cases, tear those same things off the walls with enough force to pull tiles straight out of the mortar. To their credit, they began the repair work right away, and by the time they confessed to my wife and me, the tiles in question were expertly smooshed back into place.
Anyone who lives in an old house knows that when something breaks, it’s usually just the beginning of a much larger project. In my case, the wall behind the tiles was damaged, so those tiles couldn’t be repaired, which meant other tiles had to come out, which meant the whole wall was coming out. I’m planning to petition my state senator to outlaw all toys with suction cups.
Around this time last year, I wrote an article about new beginnings and the editing process. I was redrafting the opening of my new book at the time, and I’m happy to say I’m now wrapping up what I hope is the last major round of revisions before that book goes out on submission. Between that process and the bathroom renovation, I’ve got edits on the brain again, and I honestly don’t think the two projects are all that different. Sometimes you start an edit thinking you’re just replacing a few tiles, only to find that there are issues that run deeper into the plot. Before you know it, you’re redrawing characters and reorganizing scenes, taking everything back down to the studs.
In the world of home renovations, there are thousands of very helpful YouTube videos for this purpose (I’m shocked at the number of channels devoted entirely to tiling bathrooms). But editing a book is a lot more nuanced, and much more specific. No one can tell you exactly how to shift the tone of a scene and make it work better for your main character’s overall arch.
Of course that doesn’t mean there aren’t resources available, so for this post I thought I’d share a few of my favorite books on the subject (and if you’re looking for tiling guidance, shoot me a message and I can probably help there, too).
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Brown and Dave King
Hitting its 30th anniversary this year, this classic text is a highly engaging one-stop shop full of examples and non-examples (think features like “what’s wrong with this paragraph?”). Even if you’re not an avid writer, there’s something tantalizing about peeling back the curtain on famous books and getting at the heart of why they work (or in some cases why they don’t). The authors even cover complex and difficult to articulate topics like character voice and beats in dialogue.
The Plot Clock by Jamie Morris, Tia Levings, and Joyce Sweeney
Full disclosure — Joyce is my literary agent, but that’s not why I shamelessly promote this book whenever I get the chance. I’ve been through three novels with Joyce in the last three years, and each time, my first round of notes on the manuscript is an echo of the themes in this text — things like timing and setting up the third act. The plot of a story can feel like a monstrous, unapproachable thing, but this book reigns it in and gives writers a much-needed confidence boost, not unlike a friendly email from your favorite literary agent.
The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein
Cheryl has been a kid lit authority for many years now, and she has had many roles in the writing and publishing world. What makes this book especially exciting for us middle grade folks is that her advice is tailored to writing for young audiences. Concepts like pacing are highly specific to the audience (most adolescent boys aren’t crazy about the slow-burning whodunit). Cheryl also covers very practical concepts like using other people as a lens on your characters and turning a situation into a story. It’s the sort of book you can open randomly and learn something, which I frequently do.
Hopefully by the time you’re reading this, I’ve finished renovating my bathroom walls. Maybe I’ve even finished editing my book and sent it off to Joyce. But of course there are more stories and more inevitable edits waiting around the bend, so these books will stay where they’ve been for the last few years — right in the corner of my writing desk. Maybe I’ll add a porcelain tile to the collection as a reminder that big or small, every fix brings me closer to a finished project.