Writing when you “ain’t quite right.” Part 3

In my previous blogs, I described my particular example of, “ain’t quite right,” and talked about strategies I used to get around that problem in college. But when you have a series of novels in your head loosely translated on paper, who in their right mind is going to help you get things in the right sequence? Obviously, it has to be someone who is not only a voracious reader, but a person who is a voracious reader of books everyone else likes, too.


But, how do you not only find a voracious reader, but one who has decades of experience with editing and will do it for free? Gobs and gobs of guilt liberally topped with a heaping helping of pitiful, persistent begging.


Which brings me to the point of Part 3: NOT BEING TOO PROUD TO ASK FOR HELP.


As I discussed in the last blog, the basic problem is this: I select and sequence events at a third grade level. Have you ever asked a child, “How did you get that cut?” The answer probably began something like this, “I got up this morning, brushed my teeth…no, I did that after I ate breakfast—I think, but when did I pet the dog? I need a band-aid.” This can be what it’s like to talk to me. What you wanted to hear was, “I tripped over the dog and hit my head on the coffee table.”


Yep. It’s pretty much like trying to get anything out of the computer guy who gave you your first lesson on using your new computer. You’d never had a computer before, but he started immediately into geekese, “When you see the c:/ prompt, type in the DOS command…“ There were little things missing, such as how to turn the computer on.  And what the hell was a prompt and who is this DOS person anyway?


Like the computer geek, I have all this stuff whirling around in my head, but I just can’t seem to put it into an order helpful to anyone else.


All right,” I mumble. “If Evelyn Glennie can learn to play the xylophone and be the first deaf person hired by a philharmonic orchestra, if Helen Keller can give speeches, and if Temple Grandin can be the first woman with autism to get a doctorate and learn when to ask people if they want coffee, I CAN DO THIS!”


But…but…Evelyn Glennie hears in a different way and found out how to convey that to her music teacher. Helen Keller was a genius taught by a genius. Temple Grandin had a strong mother who wouldn’t give up on her. What do I have?

Aha! I have a sister who doesn’t take any crap from me! She spent half her life teaching business English, and she’s a voracious reader. Teaching and reading she loves. Unfortunately, as good as she is at editing, she hates it with a passion.


This wasn’t going to be easy. Asking her to edit my work would be like asking a person with OCD and a germ phobia to wallow around in a rat-infested sewer to help you find your diamond ring.


That’s why I cried when she agreed to help me.


Just in case she reconsidered and decided she didn’t want to wallow in that mire, I flew out to her home in California and firmly placed myself on her couch for two weeks.  Being a younger sister who “ain’t quite right” has it’s advantages.  I’m extremely competent when it comes to producing guilt in my older sister. The physical-presence was the right call. Instead of simply being the elephant in the living room, I was the non-stop lap-top tapper who couldn’t be dissuaded from her mission.


We had a tough time working out an editing process. I have an overwhelming compulsion to know “why”. It was not enough to know that the first 4 chapters captured her attention. It was not enough to know which chapters had too much dialogue, which had too little, which were too easy for the character, and which parts didn’t fit.


So we got bogged down in discussion like, “Why does this “s” need an apostrophe after it and that one doesn’t?”


Finally, she said, “Forget about it. That’s what an editor is for. Explain to me why this piece of dialogue is important.”


Me: “Uh. . . . What about this comma. Why is it there?”


Her: “That’s irrelevant. Now this, this is important. Why does this character simply roll over and play dead when the kids are taken away? It doesn’t make any sense.”


Me: “Well, in the sixth book, one of the characters decides to build a church because he’s seen the books that were given to someone else in the second book, and this other character gets so angry at the statues of her then in the seventh book. . .”


Her: “Aaaargh!!!! Sequencing, Jo Ellen. Sequencing!


How does the brilliant older sister/editor/voracious reader go about teaching the fine art of story sequencing to a person who looks at you as if a UFO has just landed in front of her and asked for directions to Alpha Centauri?


Obviously it wasn’t going to be easy–for either of us.


There’s one more part to this blog.  Yes,  that’s where we get to the down and dirty of what worked and what didn’t.