On Reading My Own Work: The Issue of Sentimentality

Book-books-collection-415-lTwo stories:

Story number one

I'm sitting at my computer, laughing.  My husband asks me what I'm chuckling about.

"Oh, I'm proofing my novel.  I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but Emma Jean makes me laugh, even though I wrote her."

I've gone through edits, and copy edits, and now one round of proofing, and every time it makes me laugh.  Every time, reading the novel makes me remember how much I loved writing it.  How much I love my heroine, Emma Jean.  How happy I am that the book is being published.

Story number two

This year for Christmas presents, I printed out copies of my MFA novel, Language of Trees, for my daughter and daughter-in-law, because they hounded me for it at their request.  As the chapters came off the printer, I read bits and pieces of it.  Some of it I liked, but some of it made me cringe.  And now when I picture the girls reading it, I cringe anew.

So what's the difference in these two stories?

Well for one thing, Emma Jean has been rewritten, revised and edited within an inch of her life.  Though I worked and worked at writing Language of Trees, I could never quite get it to hang together.  (I'm hoping to change that this year, and I'm giving serious thought to going the indie publishing route with it.)

But here's what I believe the major cringe-worthy factor is: sentimentality.

The best definition of sentimentality I've ever read is that it is unearned emotion.

Language of Trees still has a lot of moments of unearned emotion that have not been edited out.  The kind of thing that makes you wince when you read it.  Oh God, I just remembered a party scene from the novel wherein all the men in attendance fall head-over-heels in admiration of Collie, our heroine.  Ouch. This is embarrassing to me in retrospect because it is a sentimental moment.  Collie has done nothing to earn their ardor but appear at the party.  Unearned emotion.

And, if I'm honest, when I ponder the novel I'm currently at work on, there's lots of instances of sentimentality.  In my defense, it's still a first draft.  The one with holes big enough to drive a truck through.  (I can't remember who told me that metaphor, but whoever you are, thank you.  I love it.)  And some of those holes are unearned emotion.

So I have to admit that printing out Language of Trees was a good exercise for me, pointing out, for future reference, something I want to keep a closer eye out for.  And it gives me a road map for rewriting it.  I can start with the places that make me cringe and go from there.

How does sentimentality tend to present itself in your work?  Is it an issue for you or not?

**If you're struggling with issues of sentimentality or other writing craft problems, make 2013 your year to go full out with your writing.  Consider gifting yourself a writing coach.  There's no better way to make fast progress with your writing!

Photo by lusi.


Emma Jean Edits

The day came.  My edits for the novel arrived.  And I promptly left for a two-day vacation. Arch-cape-or

We went to the beach to stay with old friends, our daughter and the Most Adorable Baby in the World in tow.  I had visions of myself on the deck, feet propped up, laptop in lap, working away on the edits.  Or sitting in a corner of the beach house, happily revisiting my old friend, the novel.

Ha!

Because it was way too sunny on the deck for me to see the laptop screen.  And every corner of the beach house was filled--gloriously so--with people. Most importantly, I wanted to be present in the vacation world and hang with my living friends, not hobnob with my fictional pals.  And so I sat at the kitchen table and answered a few emails and replied to some blog comments (thank you, I love your comments). And then I called it a day and went for a walk on the beach.

Turns out I'm not really slacking.  Before I left I emailed my editor, asking her for a deadline, thinking she'd probably mention a date in mid-August.  But, no, she said I could get it in right after Labor Day.  So I've got plenty of time. 

I'm eager to get to this.  As already noted, it's not a huge job, at least it doesn't look like it from a quick scan of the file.  I'm always a little wonky in the Track Changes feature on Word until I get into it, so there's that.  And I did see one comment about an important character reappearing at the end that my editor thinks is unnecessary.  That will require some thought in how to fix.  I'm sure there's more stuff like that throughout.

But I can't wait to get started on it--opening the file was like visiting old friends.  Which, come to think of it was the theme of the week, both in my real world and my fictional world.  How about that?

What about you?  How do you feel about the editing process?  Do you have experience working with an editor?  I'd love to hear!

**If you want to write a novel of your very own, I've got a novel-writing class beginning August 14th.  We'll cover the basics of the process and all the things you need to know to have at it.  Read more here and join us!

(I found the photo on the interwebs, and I think it comes from Tripadvisor.)