The Ritual of Not

Ritual Objects

I’m currently deeply immersed in my first full read-through of Wolf’s Soul, aka, Firekeeper Saga 8, aka, the sequel to this July’s release, Wolf’s Search.

As such, I do not have many lively tales to tell, so I tossed out a request for suggestions as to this week’s WW.  Almost immediately, I received two, which I will hereby intertwine with each other.

One, from writer and poet Mab Morris, asked me to talk about some of the difficulties involved in self-editing.  The other, from artist (and sometime writer) Elizabeth Leggett, asked me if I had any autumn writing rituals.

I don’t really have any seasonal rituals—except for coffee and chocolate.  Since coffee and chocolate have been a part of my writing routine since the writing wasn’t even fiction writing, I’m not sure if that counts as seasonal.  Let me take you spinning back in time…

It’s the mid-1980’s, when I was a full-time graduate student at Fordham University.  My first two years I held the Henry Luce Foundation Fellowship, which made me a research assistant, and sometimes teaching assistant, to John Dzieglewicz, S.J. My second two years, however, my scholarship involved my teaching several sections of English Composition.

So, there I was, taking classes, teaching classes, grading papers, and, at the end of the run, preparing for doctoral comps and writing my dissertation.  All at once.  Really.  I had four years of scholarship, and I going to waste any of it.

I was pretty poor, too, but my budget extended to coffee.  Then, by a stroke of great good luck, in a discount store I stumbled on a failed attempt to release some sort of dark Swiss chocolate in fat little bricks.  I have no idea why the release failed.  The chocolate was good: dense and heady.  I bought all I could lay my hands on and used it to fuel me as I charged through my demanding schedule.

Overall, I try to avoid getting trapped by writing rituals, because I’ve seen too many writers unable to function without their private gimmicks.  I’ll admit, though, I’ve kept this particular energy-booster, little reward, right up until the present day.  These days, dark chocolate-covered almonds, just a few, along with a mug of black coffee both start my day, and provide my mid-afternoon pick-me-up.  I can write without these, but I’ll admit, I look forward to them, especially at times like now when I’m self-editing.

The biggest difficulty in self-editing is staying sharp.  After all, I know what I meant to write.  The problem then is making sure I’m seeing what’s written on the page, rather than what I thought I wrote.  Making matters more complicated, I don’t do writer’s groups, so there’s no one but me to look at the work-in-progress.  I want to give Jim—my ever-patient first reader—as clean a manuscript as possible, so he can focus on the story, not on the typos.

I’m serious about that.  Ideally, a beta-reader should be able to focus on the story, not on proofreading.  The brain really does have different modes for editing and, for getting lost in a story.  Too many errors, and I lose Jim’s very valuable feedback as to content.  Sure, it’s nice to have him catch typos and all, but I’d much rather learn if the story is enthralling and captivating.

In order to stay sharp, I break my proofing sections into multiple little “bites,” rather than long marathons.  I do my first read-through on the computer screen, my next on a printed copy.  I seem to see the words differently in each form.

Maybe this two-stage proofing constitutes another ritual?  Or is it a ritual when it’s practical?

On that note, I’ll close. If you posted another suggestion for a WW, I’ll keep it in mind for the future.  If you didn’t, but you have a suggestion, please feel free to make it in the Comments.  Even if I can’t come up with an answer right away, I keep a list of suggestions for WW.

Now, off for one more nibble on the manuscript before I call it a day!

2 Responses to “The Ritual of Not”

  1. Jane Gnoll Says:

    That’s interesting that you read computer and paper copy simultaneously. It’s common to read differently on each – but I’ve never heard of someone using that in editing.

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