Self-Editing for People Who Have No Idea What They're Doing

October 7, 2014


Ricky Gervais, comedian, actor, creator of The Office, and erstwhile pop star, has said, "The best advice I've ever received is, 'No one else knows what they're doing either.'"  I find tremendous comfort in this idea.  It gives me the freedom to stumble around in the basement and bungle song lyrics and burn the souffle and make grammatical errors.  In my clumsy but sincere attempts to create something, I can still hope that I will create something worthwhile.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr. Gervais is incorrect.  Someone out there knows what they're doing.  Someone has done this before, with great success, and someone can tell me whether I'm capable of that same success if only I do this, that, and the other thing.  My job as a creative person, besides creating something worthwhile, is to figure out who these someones are and whether or not their advice is valid.  Oh, and I probably should also figure out what qualifies as "worthwhile" and "success."  Or maybe I should stop worrying about other people and just be the beautiful and unique snowflake I was meant to be.

Thank you, Tyler Durden.

That's a lot of figuring to do.  In the meantime, I'm going to drink heavily and lick toads take some advice I found in my September copy of Romance Writers' Report and do some self-editing.

Here's what we're a-gonna do today.  This is from the article "Polishing Your Rough Draft" by Julia Tagan.



Below is the first section of an untitled cowboy erotic short story that I've been working on.  It is an mfm menage story, the next installment of my Cowboy Cocktail series following Cowboy Cocktail.

Here's the original version. 
A cold wind whipped across the desert and stirred Andie’s hair as she raced across the empty parking lot. Her heart pounding, she pulled her threadbare coat tighter around her body and leaned against the wall of the shuttered steakhouse. Sunset was hours ago, but the bricks still held a ghost of heat.

“Damn,” she whispered, rubbing her cheek. It was still sore from where her dad had hit her. She’d had to wait three hours until he’d fallen asleep in front of the T.V. before she could sneak out of the house.

Tires hissed on the pitted asphalt. A dusty F150 pulled up right in front of the restaurant and the window rolled down. Inside were the silhouettes of two men wearing cowboy hats. The dome light clicked on and Andie stared in disbelief.

“How’s my wild girl doing?” called the one in the passenger seat.

“Decker?” she asked, still a little out of breath.

“In the flesh,” he replied.

She stepped forward. As she got closer, she saw that both men wore starched shirts and clean white cowboy hats. The wind gusted again and Andie caught a whiff of leather and Ivory soap.

Her arms still folded around her, she peered into the car. “Hey, Dean,” she said to the driver, who lowered the radio. Dean Mackinnon tipped his hat and looked up at her. The dome light illuminated his pale blue eyes. Before he left Oleander to be a rodeo bullfighter, Dean had been the small town’s reigning king of hearts.

“Hello, Andie,” he said. “What are you up to tonight?”

“Just trying to be good,” she replied.

Decker smirked. “What are you really up to, Andie?”

“None of your business.”

Decker looked her up and down. Just past thirty, he was about five years younger than Dean, wiry and indestructible like a bull rider should be. His dark green eyes scanned her hair, her makeup, even the pink nail polish on her toes. She was wearing gold high-heel sandals despite the cold weather.

“Come out with us,” he said at last.

“Maybe another time.”

Decker looked around the half-filled parking lot. “You got a date or something?”

She cocked her head. “Yes. I do.” She frowned. “I mean, I did.”

“Who with?”

“Caleb.”

“What?” Decker laughed and turned to Dean. “Did you know Andie’s going out with your baby brother?”

“I’m not ‘going out’ with him,” Andie said. “This would’ve been our first date, if I’d gotten here on time.”

“Caleb Mackinnon, huh?” Decker grinned.

Andie sighed. “Cut it out, Decker.”

“That kid graduate from high school yet?”

Dean rubbed his beard, but he was smiling, too. “Leave her alone, Deck. Don’t bully the lady.”

“I never bully Andie,” said Decker, turning back to her. “Do I bully you, sweetheart?”

“Sometimes,” she said, looking him in the eye.

He lowered his voice in a half-joking way. “Only when you want me to.”

The line was cheesy, but his deep baritone made her toes curl. “Only when I want you to,” she said.

“I’m only in town for one night.” He smiled. “Come out with us. What do you say?”

“One night?”

Decker nodded. “Leaving tomorrow morning.”

Andie looked at the two handsome cowboys. She shook her head. “I don’t know why I listen to you.”

Decker beamed as he got out of the truck and opened the door for her. “Because I’m fun, sweetheart,” he said.

Andie climbed in between them and Decker banged the door shut.
Now here's the version that I went over one time, using the tips above.
A cold wind whipped across the desert and stirred Andie’s hair as she raced across the empty parking lot. Her heart pounding, Out of breath, she pulled her threadbare coat tighter around her body and leaned against the wall of the shuttered steakhouse. Sunset was The sun set hours ago, but the bricks still held a ghost of heat.
“Damn,” she whispered. rubbing her cheek. It was still sore from where   She rubbed her cheek where her dad had hit her. When he fell asleep in front of the T.V. three hours later, she snuck out of the house.  But she was too late.  She’d had to wait three hours until he’d fallen asleep in front of the T.V. before she could sneak out of the house.
Tires hissed on the pitted asphalt. A dusty F150 pulled up right in front of the restaurant and the window rolled down. Inside were the silhouettes of two men wearing in cowboy hats. The dome light clicked on and Andie stared in disbelief.
“How’s my wild girl doing?” called the one in the passenger seat.
“Decker?” she asked, still a little out of breath.
“In the flesh.”,” he replied.
She stepped forward. As she got closer, she saw that both men wore starched shirts and clean white cowboy hats. The wind gusted again and Andie caught a whiff of leather and Ivory soap.
Her arms still folded around her, she peered into the car at the driver. “Hey, Dean.”,” she said to the driver, who lowered the radio. Dean Mackinnon lowered the radio, looked up at her, and tipped his hat and looked up at her. The dome light illuminated his pale blue eyes. Before he left Oleander to be a rodeo bullfighter for the bull riding circuit, Dean had been the small town’s reigning king of hearts.
“Hello, Andie. ,” he said. “What are you up to tonight?”
“Just trying to be good.”,” she replied.
Decker smirked. “What are you really up to, Andie?”
“None of your business.”
Decker looked her up and down. Just past thirty, he was about five years younger than Dean, wiry and indestructible like a bull rider should be. His dark green eyes scanned her hair, her makeup, even the pink nail polish on her toes. She was wearing wore gold high-heel sandals despite the cold weather.
“Come out with us.”,” he said at last. He smiled.
“Maybe another time.”
Decker looked around the half-filled empty parking lot. “You got a date or something?”
She cocked her head. “Yes. I do.” She frowned. “I mean, I did.”
“Who with?”
“Caleb.”
“What?” Decker laughed and turned to Dean. “Did you know Andie’s going out with your baby brother?”
Andie bristled. “I’m not ‘going out’ with him.,” Andie said. “This would’ve been our first date, if I’d gotten here on time.”
“Caleb Mackinnon, huh?” Decker grinned.
Andie sighed. “Cut it out, Decker.”
“That kid graduate from high school yet?”
Dean rubbed his beard, but he was smiling, too and tried to hide his own smile. “Leave her alone, Deck. Don’t bully the lady.”
“I never bully Andie.”,” said Decker, turning Decker turned back to her. “Do I bully you, sweetheart?”
“Sometimes.”,” she said, looking She looked him in the eye.
He lowered his voice in a half-joking way. “Only when you want me to.”
The line was cheesy, but his deep baritone made her toes curl. She said nothing.  “Only when I want you to.”
“I’m only in town for one night.” Decker leaned toward her.  He smiled. “Come out with us. What do you say?”
“One night?”
Decker nodded. “Leaving tomorrow morning.”
Andie looked at the two handsome cowboys. She shook her head. “I don’t know why I listen to you.”
Decker beamed as he got out of the truck and opened the door for her. “Because I’m fun, sweetheart.”,” he said.
Andie climbed in between them and Decker banged the door shut.
This works.  First, I cut a ton of dialogue tags.  Then I chopped up that second paragraph for clarity and tried to remove as many -ing verbs as possible.  The second version does read more clearly, but I am afraid of using too many simple subject-verb-object sentences.  More compound and complex sentences will keep my prose from sounding like a Dick and Jane reader.

But my verdict?  These tips are solid advice.  And I think with more fine-tuning, this passage will clean up good.