Liar, Liar! Misrepresenting our writing.

Prior to a visit from my mother-in-law, I clean closets, wash walls and dust blinds.  Two days after she leaves, my closets have reorganized themselves, the walls sport new fingerprints and the mini dust bunnies have repopulated the mini blinds.

It’s really rather laughable–except that we carry this propensity for false representation into the writing world.  Contensts, with their tight word count requirements, have writers providing their best words.  Not necessarily their true words.

While reading commentary about contests, I found an alarming number of contestants discussing how they culled their manuscripts to find their best entries. 

The first 250 words weren’t as enticing as the next 250, so I swapped some stuff around.

The good stuff doesn’t really get going until the second page, so I entered that one.

I didn’t think Contest Judge would like my MC’s personality, so I tweaked it to make her appear not so crabby.  I wanted them to connect.

Many entrants indicated they would not keep these changes once the contest was over.  They edited to put their best foot forward for a specific length of time.  This rankled me a little.  Mostly because I found myself thinking the same thing last night in bed.

Based on solid feedback, I have been revamping my opening pages of a manuscript.  In the process, I’ve cut some really great lines.  However, they just didn’t work with this “new beginning.” 

While singing my old opening in my head like a lullaby pondering the changes I made, I had a fleeting moment of panic.  I wanted to put everything back to normal just because I loved so much about the original opening.  At the moment it didn’t matter that the changes addressed some important issues and made my manuscript stronger. 

I thought to myself, Self, put your best foot forward now and see how it goes.  If it doesn’t work out, just change it back.

This was followed by a quick, “Liar, liar!”  Princess Bride style.  It took me a second to realize this voice was right.

Specifically, why would I make my manuscript stronger for the moment and then go back to something I know isn’t as good?  And more generally, why do we revamp something for a first impression, but then pull back later?

I let my closets slide because it takes too much energy to keep them perfect.  I don’t have the patience to follow my kids around every morning.  And I most certainly will not hang their clothes back up and tidy the mess they made while finding the right combo of t-shirts, jeans and sweatshirts to go with their moods. 

That’s okay.  They’re my closets.  And my kids.

But in the writing arena, this lazy attitude isn’t okay.  Nor is it okay to love something so much that we refuse to make permanent changes–even when we know we are not putting our best foot forward in the long run.  Or should I say especially when we know that a stronger version exists? 

Once upon a time, I was naive to this.  I didn’t have the experience to understand that the most beloved was not necessarily the best.  Now that I do, I would be remiss if I didn’t edit to the best of my ability. 

So, I have to cut a few wonderful lines.  Fine.  I’ll just replace them with something better.

Have you fallen victim to changing passages for the moment, only to go back and keep the original?  Is it because the original is the strongest writing or the most beloved?  How do you know the difference?

happy editing~ cat


16 responses to “Liar, Liar! Misrepresenting our writing.

  1. QUOTE: “‘Liar, liar!’ Princess Bride style.” Lol, love it!

    I agree with you that it’s silly to edit something to appeal to one person if you’re only going to go back to the original. When editing, it should be the best work we have no matter who we think will like it or not. How can it be our best work if we’re changing one thing knowing we’ll revert it back to the original? That just seems two-faced.

    Great post, Cat!

    • Laura,

      Great point about the editing. “It should be the best work we have not matter who we think will ike it or not.”

      I may hang that by my computer. ~cat

  2. I’ve learned (fairly quickly, I think) not to be too attached to anything. If you’re changing it for the better, learn to love that change and don’t look back. OR, I haven’t had to make painful changes yet, and we’ll see when I get to the point that I have to. 🙂 Great post. Love the visual of the mini-dust bunnies reassembling.

    • Lisa,

      I actually love major edits where an entire chunk of writing either needs to be added or taken away. It is transforming these scenes to work throughout the whole manuscript that make it all worth while. In that respect, you are right. Do not get too attached to anything. Even great ideas need tweaked to work better sometimes.


  3. Ha. Reminds me of the manuscript I had “finished” but moved the end of the book to the beginning (sort of a prologue), then moved it back to the end, then moved it again and again. I was trying to force the novel into being a mystery so I could submit it to mystery publishers. How silly is that?

    • Patricia,

      I have one in the major re-edit stage that sounds similar. I’ve waffled over what to do with the mystery element and haven’t fully decided yet.

      Did you ever submit it as a mystery?

  4. I nuke far more words than I keep. If I think of great lines, I try to wedge them in somewhere, but don’t always succeed.

    There’ll be other stories to write em in, see.

    As for editing, I’ll throw out 50k bad words and start over with little more thought than you’d give to re-writing a single sentence.

    If I don’t like it, if it ain’t jiving, if it’s awkward or headed in the wrong direction, ~delete~.

    Heck, my online blogging and comments I’ll often type, delete, and re-type.

    While I’m working on a piece, it’s edit edit EDIT! Constantly!

    As for editing for a contest (I assume it’s a short story contest), I’d probably either pull up something like what they wanted, or write something new, rather than destroy a good piece just for a contest.

    If it were a finished novel, and I needed edits for the contest, I’d find another contest, or write a new novel.

    Over-editing once it’s finished can KILL a piece. Introduces too many errors and jacks up the flow.

    – Eric

    • Eric,

      This is such a great and unique perspective. I remember when I first started writing and was publishing in the adult market. One of the questions I asked a critter had to do with rights. She totally didn’t care if she gave up all rights to any of her pieces. Her philosophy: I can always write more. And if I can’t I don’t deserve to be called a writer.

      That has stuck with me in regards to editing. If I’m only capable of a one shot wonder, I don’t deserve to call myself a writer.

      Thanks for chiming in~ cat

  5. Good questions Cat. In the ms I’ve got marinating, I had a repeating nagging thought. I ignored it. *sigh* Not smart. It took me far too long to listen to it and change the ms as needed. That involved several months worth of work. I’m doing a much better job this time around.

    I haven’t entered my stuff for contests yet. Don’t know when I’ll feel ready for that!

    • Jemi,

      Waiting too long when we know something is amiss can be difficult to remedy. At least you listened and are no much more aware of the process this time around. I think the first book is the easiest to write because we are so naive. Subsequent books are more difficult because we write with much more awareness as a whole.

      However, editing later works is often less daunting than that virgin novel.

      Best luck~ cat

  6. I have deleted things only to reinstate them. I have. What I have also done is started a “deletions” folder so a beloved sentence/scene/description isn’t really gone. I can always use it at a later time in another story. Maybe.
    I think it is a mistake to try to second guess every critic, every judge, every contest guideline. I’d like to think that my strongest writing is my most loved. Sometimes we feel it in our bones, that tingle in the chest thing. Know what I mean? In the end….we have to trust our own instincts.

    • Yvonne,

      You sound like you know what you’re doing in the editing department. That’s so important.

      I literally delete. Sometimes forever. I’m not sure yet if this is a good or a bad thing. I guess I may never know!


  7. I think that it’s hard to amputate and replace, and even harder to discern whether the operation was successful or not.

    It’s easy for me to see what others’ manuscripts need, but I tend to have zero objectivity with my own.

    • Layinda,

      Ditto on the critique of other’s works. It is so much easier to see the strengths and weaknesses in a different manuscript. Not so much in my own.

      I don’t have a problem with amputating. I do, however, have a tough time telling if the changes were worth it. Sometimes it’s nice to have help figuring it out.


  8. Jumped over here to answer your question from my blog, Cat — that sad Colorado shooting was down in Boulder, I think, way south of where I live. So sad, especially when I think of the daughter now abruptly orphaned.

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