Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water

Obviously when you’re sharing bath water with your family, you want to make sure not to throw your baby out with all the nasty muck once everyone’s done bathing.

Writing is a bit different. Sometimes, I need to let go of what I’ve become attached to in order to get to the really good stuff. I’ve got to chuck the apple meat to get to the core.

I’ve been trying to get my full-length manuscript, Swallow Tongue, published for a couple of years now. It’s been accepted for publication once, but after hearing from several people who have read it that they love it and think it’s strong recently, it’s more than about time to shove it, clean and edited, on some nice paper and smack an ISBN on the back.

A dear friend of mine, Heather Dobbins, edited my manuscript for me a couple of months ago, and I’m just now getting around to really enacting her edits. A lot of people have helped me along the way on this little manuscript, and it’s all been out of love. I’ve edited several people’s manuscripts, and I’ve only done it out of love for them and a earnest belief in their work. I’m grateful to have friends like Heather who have shown me so much love, even when I’ve felt very discouraged about my own work.

Heather’s a tough editor, and a tough editor is what I needed. I’d been keeping some poems in the manuscript without touching them because I couldn’t envision how to re-enter them or I was too proud of their publication credit and felt like they were perfect just as they were published in whatever journal and shouldn’t be changed. The former is imaginable: sometimes I’ve outgrown a specific style or the old obsession isn’t as easy to come back to. The latter is unpardonable: a poem can always be edited, even if it has some fancy publication credit.

Heather also cut 10 poems. TEN! In a full-length collection of a mere 52 poems, that’s nearly a 20% cut. That’s HUGE! I’m following her reckoning through. The ten she cut weren’t as strong as the other poems to be able to stand alone or were just too similar: other poems had the same ideas, but did them better. I can mine these old poems for great lines, word choices, images, etc. to include in these or other poems, so all is not lost, but cutting ten poems, phew.

She also completely re-ordered the whole manuscript. I’ve only walked through the first 20 poems so far, but her order makes so much sense, but would never have seen them this way. I kept ordering the whole manuscript in a way that felt chronological: these poems are about children, these about lovers, these about more mature lovers, these about parents. Her way focuses entirely on images (and many of them are animals, not surprisingly, since I seem to like to write about a lot of animals), which makes total sense, but I couldn’t see it that way. Again, throwing the baby (what I think is best) out with the bath water.

What’s also interesting is that several poems in her iteration of Swallow Tongue weren’t in the latest version I finished editing in November, and she likes them and wants them to stay and has great places for them. How could I say no to that? I also have several poems in my latest version that aren’t in the one she edited, so I can possibly use those and not feel the pinch of ten fewer poems as much.

Right now, I’ve created a new document titled “Swallow_Tongue_2015Redux” and am diligently following her line-edit and ordering suggestions. I’m seeing really how the new poems feel. Several of them now seem so much clearer and brighter, like she just scraped off a layer of grime to reveal a perfectly maintained ’52 Ferrari. Others I think I will have to get used to, or I’ll need to go back in again at some later point.

I also looked up several book contests and have three or four I plan to submit to by March 31st. I also found a great list over at Nancy Chen Long’s blog that covers First Book Contests. Some of the links are now defunct or the contests only take submissions on even-numbered years, but I still found the list helpful in figuring out what places I could send my little manuscript to this year.

I’m grateful for a writing community and writing friends in my life today. I’m also hopeful. Let’s get you published, Swallow Tongue! 

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