As I’m winding down the final edits for Moon Shine (goes live in 12 days) I thought I’d compile a list of steps my draft goes through when it becomes “done.”

1. Draft/Edit: it can feel frustrating at times but really it’s the most fun part of the process.

2. Finish Draft: then put it down for a week to let it simmer.

3. Proof-read + make notes of repetitive words.

4. Make corrections

5. Copy edit #1

6. Proof-read again + fix dialogue

7. Read draft aloud + Copy edit #2

8. Proof-read #3 + find continuity issues

9. Add to fill plot holes

10. Read aloud again

11. Take list from step 3 and use thesaurus. Use the fuck out of thesaurus.

12. Proof-read #4 fixing problems from notes taken during steps 1-11

13. Read aloud #3 + Copy edit #3

14. Give manuscript to final beta reader (Mr. J)

15. Re-read manuscript specifically focusing on using correct names/descriptions/actions/mechanics of firearms (if applicable).

16. Final read aloud

17. DONE

Note: Reading your draft aloud is the best thing you can do for editing, in my opinion. I catch so many grammatical errors and passive voice issues when I read my work aloud.

Note 2: Throughout the editing process I look for A) filter words, B) repetition, and C) passive voice

Note 3: Throughout the editing process I make notes every time I re-read the manuscript. I write down questions I have about setting changes and character development. I also write down/highlight all plot holes and anything I think is boring.

Note 4: I do not spend money on a freelance editor and copy editor. I have an MFA in Creative Writing. I do all my edits myself because I know how (feel free to argue with me in the comments if you’ve read my work) but I do use beta readers to gauge plot pacing, character development, and identify possible sensitivity issues.

Note 5: As important as it is to work consistently on your manuscript (especially if you have a deadline) it is equally important to give your book some down time. I try to take days off whenever I feel myself getting frustrated with a scene or when I feel myself over-editing. Remember, writing is supposed to be fun. You’re doing something you love, don’t burn yourself out. Also, taking breaks lets new ideas emerge and distance allows you a fresh perspective.

This is an example of one of the ways I think up characters:

Me: (recording poems for my audiobook)

Icharus: I want to be a character now.

Me: But you already are.

Icharus: In a book.

Me: …what?

Icharus: I want to be in a book. I didn’t die when I fell. And I love Orpheus.

Me: You do? Ok just hang on a–

Icharus: And I want my book to be like every James Baldwin novel but with more sex.

Me: I don’t know if I can be that brutal.

Icharus: And it’s going to be a trilogy.

Me: Really?

Icharus: Yep.

Me: Well you’ll have to get in line behind Regina, all the Echos, Helen, and everybody else.

Icharus: Did I mention I love Orpheus? And maybe one of the gods too. Apollo could be very metaphorical.

Me: Take a number and get in line!

Icharus: I really, really want a book-trilogy.

Me: You’ll get one just shut up and let me work!

Icharus: I don’t trust you.

Me: It’ll happen! You’re in the queue. I promise!

Icharus: You’re going to have to do a lot of research. Geography is really important.

Me: I know!

Icharus: …maybe Achilles…

Me: Don’t push it.

*

And on and on it went and that is how I made the decision to eventually write a gay romance. A character popped into my head that wouldn’t shut up. But really this character has been in my head since 2012 and didn’t find his voice until day before yesterday. Before that he was a shadowy idea floating around in my brain meat.

It happened during a writing exercise I did back in grad school (see how long ago). The exercise was to look at a book cover and write the synopsis on the back. No influence from the real synopsis or any other information from the book. Just write something based off the cover. You should try it, it’s super fun.

When I read my little blurb the girl sitting at the table directly across from me lit up with a smile and after class she told me I had to write that character, that his voice was so clear to her.

At the time I wasn’t writing fiction but I thought she was super nice to say so, so I put the suggestion away and now almost 7, count em, 7 years later here’s that voice again.

But this time I am writing fiction and I don’t want to tell him to go away. So I guess I’m adding another project to my publication schedule.

*

How do your characters come to you?

Or, if you’re a poet, how do poems happen?

Take the splintered memory of your father beating you from between your mother’s clenched teeth. If you can still hear his voice, go west. You will come to a ditch cradling a dead cat. If his neck is twisted, proceed north. If his belly is split open like a rotten orange under a motorcycle wheel, go south; you will find the driver’s bloody bootprints scuffing the Black-Eyed-Susans. If you mix the pollen with loose-leaf tobacco and roll a cigarette, your doppelgänger in another universe will be gifted a front row seat to the next public execution. But that is not the direction you want to go. If you ignore me and walk towards the old Civil War battlefield marked with the city’s slapdash attempts at historical preservation, your old lovers, wherever they are, will turn pail as if a nurse has taken too much life force away from the abrasive latticework of a failed experimental procedure. You taste blood in your mouth. They will fall to the floor and you will not be there to kiss the languor from their eyelashes. If you don’t see a dead cat, continue west as if nothing is wrong. You will eventually come to a fork in the road. Or a river. And you must either cut off all your hair or throw your clothes into the Salvation Army donation bin that washed up on the riverbank with the rest of the hurricane detritus and proceed with your own body acting as a trembling neophyte’s compass pointing towards the sharpest point away. If fear clamps down on you so hard your ribs creak and snap against your heart, you can choose a different direction. You can run, screaming, back home or you can try to walk on water.

Day 12 no nicotine.

So last week I realized smoking wasn’t helping me release stress/all the annoying things that make me want to break windows but it was actually making me feel better about holding on to the stress and obsessing more. So now I don’t feel so bad about quitting smoking (the memories are better than the real thing and I want to go back to better days when smoking meant all the fun things but it never really did, it lied and made all the lies taste nice which is a really scummy thing to do). But now I need to figure out how to stop obsessing about the annoying things and turn my thinking power towards more positive places.

Mr. J (opens the door to go to work): Hey there’s a new cat outside!

(We live in an apartment complex with lots of stray cats.)

Me: Yeah.

Mr. J: Yeah!

Me: Yeah (Not the happy, enthusiastic “yeah” but the uncomfortable, defeated “yeah” of a person who all cats know will do anything for them and will ultimately suffer the displeasure of her inside feline overlords because the outside cat made big eyes at her yesterday and she doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to go without paying homage to the outside cat by giving him/her the inside feline overlords’ treats. And once they find out I’m giving an outside cat treats there will be HELL TO PAY!)

Me (again): Yeah.

If I cross my middle finger

over my forefinger

I am wishing for luck.

If I cross my forefinger

over my middle finger

I don’t want them to hear us.

If I tap 2 fingers twice

against the door hinge

on the way to the kitchen, don’t

eat anything they give you.

If I touch my broken

right pinkie to my thumb

I am wishing to die.

If I put my hand

on your knee underneath

the table, I am trying

to choke hysteria.

If I tap 2 fingers twice

on my coffee cup,

the spider lilies are blooming again.

If you see me

punching the paisley wallpaper

over and over again,

I don’t want to talk about it.

If I brush my fingers

across my lips as I casually

adjust my glasses

I am begging you to be quiet.

If I hold my hand this way

the rain came in last night

and flooded my room.

If I hold my hand that way

they are still searching for

your body, the place

where they insist

you drowned.

If you run your fingers

across my knuckles and my

breath catches in my throat,

I love you.

She walks the morning alone.

I want to tell her

serenity

is not some myth-

ical beast she must catch

and kill. Blood

and hearts are not torn and slurped up

on a dare, for bargains

rewards, or love. Fate

doesn’t play well with others

but she does play

with hearts that need breaking.

I want to tell her

Fate will be her best friend

when there is no one

to drink with

but her own weeping

shadow. And when

she walks the morning alone

the concrete crumbles

and the sun

breaks

every

nightmare.