DARLA, MY INNER EDITOR
(published on Medium, Apr 7, 2020)
The hardest part of writing is my inner editor. I named her Darla. She’s kinda mean, and she doesn’t have a creative bone in her body. The artistic side of my brain loves everything I write. All of it! She’s a total cheerleader who tells me all my stories are fun-tastic. Then Darla, my left brain, taps me on the shoulder.
“Mind if I have a look?” She doesn't bother waiting. Just starts deleting stuff right off.
“Not at all,” I reply but really, I mind very, very much.
Darla knows lots about what industry professionals want. She’s always Googling stuff. Plus, she remembers what editors, publishers, and authors have said about my work before. When I remind Darla that those professionals are much nicer to me than she is, she gives me a this-is-for-your-own-good look. It’s hard to grumble with someone who claims they’re doing something for your benefit.
Now, we both know Darla’s role is an essential part of getting a story ready for other readers. That picky business of checking commas, grammar, sentence length, tense, and such takes a long time and is a total yawn-fest to my right brain. But it usually does help. Even if I hate admitting when she has a point.
Last week Darla and I had a big fight.
I was sending my 130-page novel to an agent. Darla felt I needed to summarize it in one short and powerful sentence. (For the record, describing any book as a single sentence is like trying to turn the thousand-odd pages of War and Peace into a seventeen-syllable Haiku.)
I began my sentence with, “Gifted eleven-year-old Cora — ”
“Too long,” Darla announced.
“Too long?” I looked at the few words I’d typed. “What would you suggest I cut?”
“The gifted part. And her age. Also, they don’t need to know her name yet.”
“That’s . . . that’s all of it. You just cut the whole thing.”
I kept my cool and tried again. “To keep herself and her brother out of foster care, a young girl must — ”
“Take out the brother,” Darla said.
“Jimmy? But he’s her motivation for solving the mystery.”
“Does he know that?”
“Don’t be snarky. You know what I mean.”
I typed out a new sentence slowly, one eye on Darla. “To save her family, a young girl must get her mom back before anyone knows she ran off and — ”
“Hm . . .” She squinted over my shoulder and made a face. “Do we really need the mom?”
“Most kids think so.”
Darla gave me her side-eye and said, “Keep it simple. Isn’t this really about a smart girl who solves mysteries?”
“You mean like Nancy Drew?”
“At least I should mention the Instagram influencers who help her. That’s a major plot point.”
“Okay, how about, ‘a smart girl and her friends solve mysteries?’”
“That’s Scooby Doo.”
“Is there a dog in your book?”
I shook my head.
“Well, there, it’s not like Scooby Doo at all.”
After many hours of passive-agressive please-would-you-mind-doing-it-my-way-for-once, we managed to find fourteen words that made us both (but mostly Darla) happy:
“To keep her family together, Cora must elude criminals, cops and her OCD.”
Between you and me, there are also cool Instagram influencers, a fun but flighty mom and a terrific kid brother named Jimmy.
Writing is fun. Editing is hard. If you write, I hope your inner editor is nicer than Darla.