How to Love Editing Your Novel, Step One

Over ten years ago, a close friend died from cystic fibrosis. The courage with which he conducted his life, doing all the things he loved, touched me deeply. I wanted to honor his memory by writing him into my next novel. After I completed two drafts of this story (my writing group offering encouragement along the way), I showed it to my husband. Some writers would rather subject themselves to Charlie Sheen’s bayonet arms or eat a Madagascar hissing cockroach than share an early draft of their novel with their spouse. But I trust Hub’s instincts and he’s given me some very good feedback.

On this project, however, what he said stopped me cold. “You’re too close to the subject,” he said. He elaborated that because I had elevated our friend to hero status, I didn’t allow for the character to have any flaws, which made the story less realistic.

I haven’t touched it since.

I know someday I will get back to it. It’s a good story with fascinating characters. But as a younger writer, comments like this made me wish I’d gone to nursing school like my mother always wanted.

As the days following his critique stretched forward, and that manuscript composted in my closet, I kept wondering when I would attain enough emotional distance, not just to make this character multidimensional, but to start the revision process in general. A week? A month? A year?

The answer is, as with so many other things in life, it depends. Some people are ready to go into the next draft right after typing “the end” on the last one. Some people take longer. For me, it depends how excited I am about the story. The Joke’s on Me, which is coming out this summer, was one of those stories. I could hardly wait to start revising each time I neared the completion of a draft. But some stories have plodded on, and I put them aside to work on more exciting things.

You might find, though, setting your first draft aside for a short time (at least a couple of weeks to a month) to be helpful in gaining perspective. If you jump back into it right away, you run the risk of what I call “story saturation.” You will read this manuscript so many times during its lifespan that you may stop seeing the words. Even if you’ve gone through six, seven, eight drafts before you pronounce it ready to shop around, you will go through even more with your agent, your publisher and their editors. I lost track of how many times I’ve read The Joke’s on Me during its various iterations. Multiple readings without a break increases your risk of typos, grammatical errors, missing words, dangling plot lines, unnatural dialogue, and all of the other demons we massage out of our manuscripts.

So what’s your style? Plow ahead or let it compost?

Some Popular Wisdom Charlie Sheen Should Consider

When a celebrity flames out-and this was damned impressive as far as flameouts go-why does the star in question (or in rehab) so often blame everyone but himself for his misbehavior? Even more disturbing, the character Charlie Sheen plays on Two and a Half Men is basically Charlie Sheen without the ex-wife, the kids, or the consequences of his actions. As I thought about him, and the crap he keeps pulling (the women he threatened, the drugs, the drinking, the egomania), cliché by cliché kept popping into my head. You know, that common wisdom people tell you when you screw up. So here are a few things Sheen may want to consider the next time he schedules an interview with TMZ:

1. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Seriously. Calling his producer a charlatan, a troll, and a turd, and worse? The man who made Sheen’s drug-, booze- and porn star-infested lifestyle possible? Save it for the tell-all. And please, please, hire this woman to write it.

2. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. During his tantrums, where he repeatedly provoked producer Chuck Lorre by using his Hebrew name, Sheen apparently forgot that his real name is Carlos Estevez. But when anyone brings this up, he claims they are anti-Latino. He denies his own roots in the quest for the almighty dollar, and then calls other people anti-Latino? Okay, put that on the list for things to talk over with Dr. Drew.

3. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. That means rehab, buddy. And not the drive-through variety or the kind he can do in the comfort of his own home with his Little Therapist Nanosecond Addiction-Cure Kit. Sheen’s case is more serious than that.

4. Little pitchers have big ears. Like it or not, he has kids. If he’s going to do blow with hookers and porn stars, don’t bring the kids to the same hotel.

5. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Or perhaps in that strange, little world inside his head, it does.

6. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. This one speaks for itself, don’t you think, Mr. Bayonet Arms? And if he’s so pissed about the media getting it wrong and maligning him, pull a Sarah Palin and STOP talking to them!

7. Don’t get caught with your pants down. See number six.

8. A fool and his money are soon parted. So are fools and their contracts.

9. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. If you have any doubt, consider this statement, from his rant on Alex Jones’ radio show: “I got magic and I got poetry at my fingertips and I’m, y’ know, most of the time – and this includes naps – I am an F-18, bro, and I will destroy you in the air and I will deploy my ordnance to the ground.” Either he’s practicing for his next career as a rapper, or he’s on a serious power trip. Hey, it’s called Two and a Half Men, not One Guy With a Bunch of Supporting Characters. Who, by the way, helped make Sheen very rich. Do you see Jon Cryer or Conchata Ferrell out there having tantrums or rapping on the radio? No.

Here’s a few more clichés for Charlie Sheen: Hasta la vista, baby. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. No soup for you. Next!

Best And Worst Jobs of 2010

As if you didn’t already know where your job stacks up against, say, that dream you always had of ditching the suit and tie and becoming a lumberjack, a ranking of the 200 best and worst jobs of 2010 was just compiled and released by

The rankings reflect the stress, employment outlook, working conditions, and salaries of each position, among other things. Actuaries fared the best, followed closely by software engineers and computer systems analysts. So, apparently, it’s relatively safe and lucrative to sit all day staring at computer screens, although my physical therapist and ophthalmologist would probably disagree. Physically demanding jobs often performed under less-than-optimal conditions came out worst, like welders, dairy farmers, ironworkers, and, sorry to say, lumberjacks. But ranking #200 were roustabouts (typically someone who does all the stuff no one else wants to do, like hang off of oil rigs or put up circus tents.)

Actors came in at #164, although if spent more time in Hollywood, they might want to add these jobs in their best and worst categories:


1. Anyone on Charlie Sheen’s payroll is having a good year, although some jobs are less savory than others. I imagine it’s easier to be his dealer than his public relations agent. Or his housekeeper.

2. “Butcher” might not have rated very highly with (#190), but one particular butcher did well…Lady Gaga’s designer, Franc Fernandez, bought twenty-five pounds of flank steak from his own butcher to make this juicy little number. And, like any good red-carpet design, the knockoffs are already flying off the menu.

3. Lindsay Lohan’s sober coach. According to Lindsay’s dad, Michael, strongly in the running to keep his daughter away from the influence of “those Hollywood types” is Iris Martin, who was once Bill Clinton’s therapist. Because that worked out so well…


1. Hands down, 2010 was one horrific year for TV star Heidi Montag’s plastic surgeon, Dr. Frank Ryan. After performing ten procedures on the celebutante in one month (November 2009), Montag publicly expressed her deep regret and her scars. In her interview with Life & Style on December 2, she said, “People have fewer scars from car accidents than I have on my body.” In one of those horrible Hollywood twists of fate, Dr. Ryan died in a car accident while texting back in Auguts. He was sending a Twitter message about his dog.

2. Having anything to do with Mel Gibson rates lowest on the list. Seriously, not even Jodie Foster will talk to him anymore.

3. It’s apparently also a bad year to be Kanye West’s media trainer.

I hope 2010 was a great year for you. Have a safe, healthy, paparazzi-free and prosperous 2011!