Everybody Bakes Chocolate Chip Cookies (aka: Editing)

You have just baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

There they rest, golden-brown and delicious, cooling on the counter. Your plan? To give them away — no wait, to sell them for money. But there is a problem.

Everybody bakes chocolate chip cookies.

unoriginal_chocolate_chip_cookies

True, not everyone’s cookies are alike. Some scrap them together with cheap or artificial ingredients. Others drop hunks of pre-made dough onto a cookie sheet and call it a day. And some get it right, following the recipe and adding the perfect measurements of flour, brown sugar, vanilla, and egg. But still.

Everybody bakes chocolate chip cookies.

And if fifty sellers of chocolate chip cookies showed up at your door one day, as they do every day, whose would you buy? Only the best of the best. The true standouts in the bunch. Also, they probably wouldn’t be chocolate chip cookies.

So now that you have worked so long on baking your perfect batch of cookies, what can you do to improve your chances of selling them? Start by cutting out the good parts. Oh come on, everyone knows that the good part of a chocolate chip cookie is the chocolate chips. Take them all out and set them aside.

Done? Good. Now grab a rolling pin, and crush  all the leftover crumbs into tinier crumbs. Next, scoop up two-thirds of those tiny crumbs, and throw them in the trash. You heard right — the trash. As for the remaining crumbs, wet your fingers, and mush them all together into a ball. Pack it tight, like a snowball. Now stand across the kitchen, aim, and toss it toward the trash, too.

There.

All that remains is chocolate chips. The good parts. The yummy, gooey, mouth-watering parts. Place every last chip into a saucepan, turn on the heat, and stir until melted. Pour the melted chocolate into a silicone bowl, and place it in the freezer. Now go and read, or watch TV, or play computer games or whatever. In a few hours, come back and remove the bowl from the freezer, then peel away the silicone.

You have just made a giant chocolate chip.

What? It doesn’t even resemble your original batch of chocolate chip cookies? Good. Because everybody makes chocolate chip cookies. But when it comes down to it, the cookies are overrated. It’s the chocolate that everyone really wants to eat.

chocolate_is_the_best_part

This is why I have not been blogging much lately. You see, I have finished baking a lovely batch of chocolate chip cookies. Only I like to call it a novel. And I’ve been putting lots of work into digging out the “chocolate chips” — the delicious, wonderful parts that everyone will want to read. When at last I have torn apart the original batch (aka: first draft) and turned the whole thing into a mouth-watering written masterpiece, then maybe, just maybe, I will be ready to send it to the cookie critics — um, I mean, editors.

editing_the_novel

It’s getting there. But my kitchen is a mess, and I keep mistaking those dull, dreaded cookie crumbs for true pieces of chocolate. (I once was a member of two critique groups whose purpose was to discern between the two). It takes a lot of work to bake it just right. But I refuse to give up and send the editors yet another Tollhouse batch of words to toss in the slush pile.

Editors love chocolate chips. But they are sick of cookies.

editors in the slushpile

Facing the Mountain (aka: Writing vs. Editing)

Goooaaalll!  

Okay, well, I am not exactly talking about scoring a soccer goal here. But the sentiment is the same. I feel like throwing my hands up in victory, throwing back my head, and cheering. I have accomplished a gooooaaaaallll!

closeup of an typewriter with the words "CHAPTER 1"  in blue lightingYesterday, I completed a novel. To be fair, it is not the first novel I’ve completed. But it is the first young adult novel I have ever completed, and by far the longest. Possibly the best, too. I don’t know. It’s not always easy to judge your own work.

It is not an easy accomplishment to write a novel. In fact, I would rank it right behind weight loss in terms of how much daily effort and discipline it takes. Better yet, maybe it is like mountain climbing. You dig in and pull and scrabble your way up the face of the mountain. But when you at last reach the top and celebrate, wiping the sweat from your brow, the realization hits you.

climbing-a-mountain

You have not reached the summit. Just beyond your little peak looms a higher, more challenging part of the mountain. It is very daunting – filled with obstacles, like icy crevasses and loose rock. Climbing that section will likely take three times longer and require far more effort and focus.

And that, dear reader is editing.

writing rewriting

Every writer is passionate about creating a story. But few writers enjoy the editing process. Improve the spelling and grammar? No problem. But, what? Change the point-of-view of the entire story? Improve believability? Kill my beloved characters and storylines? Make the voice more active and consistent? Make the character arc more clear? Plant clues and foreshadowing earlier in the story? Make the plot less predictable?

Aaack! It’s like torture. I would rather discuss politics with my mother than edit a novel. I would rather be forced to listen to Nickelback or Bruno Mars all day than edit my novel. I would rather engage in hours of small talk with people I barely know than edit my novel.

But editing must be done. It is the thing that takes a crappy first draft that should never see the light of day and transforms it into a worthwhile novel that readers will actually want to read. Anyone can write stories. Anyone can climb the easy, first part of the mountain, pat themselves on the back, and then call it a day. But true writers know that the real victory awaits at the peak. And so, I will slip on my best climbing shoes, gather up my rope and carabiners, and face the mountain once again. I’ll bet the view will be incredible. Summit success

Famous Writer Quotes on Editing

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”  ~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” ~ Mark Twain

“The first draft of anything is shit.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” ~  Arthur Plotnik

OCD Editing