13 Ways in Which Editing a Story Is Like Grooming a New Beard
By David Bridger
Copyright © 2010, David Bridger, All Rights Reserved
1. See the goatee shape? The strongest growth in the middle of the new beard? That's the remains of the old beard I mostly shaved away in early summer. It's the original idea of the story and the backbone of the structure.
2. My task is to grow and groom the whole beard until it all looks like that old strong part, and to prevent the strong part from growing out of control while the other parts catch up with it. To shape it into a seamless story so the joints don't show.
3. It will happen. Beards grow at their own pace. (Note to teenaged boys: there is no use in straining. That will only produce broken veins or haemorrhoids or something.) Just write the thing and continue writing the thing and write the damn thing until it's finished. Then there'll be something to work with.
4. Salt and pepper is one thing, but patches of white amid the dark hair is another thing altogether. I always had a white streak in my chin. My first youthful beard earned me the nickname Badger, but fortunately only for the duration of my time on that particular ship. When a beard displays lumps of different colours, it can make shaping the thing a bit more complicated. Should the scissors follow that colour? Or stick with the contour? A balance between the two? Like with action and internal dialogue, you know? Description and movement. Pace and depth. Finding the right balance is good.
5. Talking of colour, you see those strongest black hairs? Some of them have a different texture to their brothers. I look forward to wearing an all-white ancient mariner's beard one day, but until then I need to keep an eye out and stop those dominant suckers from growing out proud of the desired shape. Yes, certain secondary characters, I'm looking at you.
6. Nose hairs. Necessary for air filtration, but unsightly, and they tickle like hell if you let them grow out of your nostrils into your moustache! Just when you're dropping off to sleep: watery eyed Sneezes-R-Us. Gah! No one needs to see them. Remove. Info dumps, anyone?
7. Getting close up to a convex mirror leaves you with nowhere to hide. Lines of life experience and a prominent nose displaying the open pores of puberty, come on down! Fair enough. It is what it is. Backstory. But hey, in a certain light, those open pores look like blackheads. Not the desired effect! Have I done everything I can to offer a word picture for my readers that's as near as possible to the picture in my head?
8. No one I know owns one of those soup-filter moustaches. After leaving mine to grow that big a few times, I know it isn't my favourite style. Let people see my smile and hear my voice. Ah, there it is: voice. Edit away whatever muffles my voice, but don't edit out the voice itself. My voice is what makes my work, my work.
9. Rogue hairs grow on my upper cheeks and my neck. They're never going to join the beard and they don't belong in the shape. Shave them off. Surplus words.
10. Use good quality, sharp scissors. That's how to avoid those eye-watering unexpected pulls. Learn editing skills. Keep on learning. Never stop learning.
11. The particularly scruffy bit underneath my scissor-finger is old scar tissue. It'll always be a small bare patch in the beard. I recognise and accept it. When the beard is fully grown it'll be covered. It's good to recognise and accept my writing weaknesses. Denying them is futile and foolish. Can't turn a blind eye to something and fix it too.
12. While it's growing, I don't need a barber. I can shape it to a good finish. But if I were to find myself up for some literary award, say, about to face bright lights and put my fuzzy face on the TV for all to see, you can bet I'd have a professional do his or her thing. Editors. It's their job. Let them do it. When that time comes, we'd be stupid not to.
13. I always trim my beard before a shower. Dry beard hair, un-shampooed and unconditioned, is best for cutting. Yes, of course I shampoo and condition my beard! After which, it goes all soft and fluffy and odd little hairs stick out here and there. Time for a quick re-visit from the shiny scissors. It's never too late to tidy up an oversight.