Monday, October 10, 2011

The Importance of Breathing

Breathe in, breathe out. Simple, right?

At the height of my teenage angst (oh, what a height), my dad had this obnoxious habit of reminding me to breathe when I got too worked up. Whatever problems were ragging in my head, I'd get so upset that I would literally forget to breathe. And my dad just look at me, coaching me through each inhale and exhale. Worst of all? It worked.

You'd think almost 15 years later I would have learned this lesson. But I haven't. I still forget to breathe. Maybe not literally any more (I'd like to think I have a little more control over my emotions than I did at 14...), but I still get so wrapped up in things that I forget to step back and measure the true magnitude of my problems.

Editing has taught me a lot about breathing. Every time I hear a new writing no-no, I freak out. I scrub through my manuscript for adverbs and passives and over use of words like "as" or "that." I take out the use of names with abandon, blindly replacing them with "he" or "she." I remove any dialogue tag that isn't "said." I rewrite entire scenes because dreams are cliche or every female protagonist has dark circles under her eyes.

Then I read a hugely popular, wildly successful published book. And it's full of adverbs and messy dialogue tags and that pesky "was." How did this author get published while ignoring THE RULES?

Probably by remembering to breathe. It's so easy to get caught up in fixing things that I forget that rules are meant to be broke, if done correctly. Without breathing, without taking a step back to look at the big picture, it's impossible to do anything with subtlety or grace. When I step back and breathe, I can confidently use "hesitantly" and state that "the room was empty." Because when I breathe, I can see that even though it's breaking the rules, it's the right way to tell my story. Sometimes "the deserted room swallowed her in loneliness" is over-writing and sometimes people do snarl at each other.

So in the midst of querying (write, rewrite, post on at least two sites for critiquing, rewrite again, research, rewrite, send), editing (delete, delete, delete, rewrite, delete, delete) and writing (start, stop, start, stop), I have to learn to pause and breathe.

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.



  1. This is great advice. I feel like we all do this sometimes, like with passives. OOH, THE PASSIVES. But then I go and read a published book and there're passives left and right, and I just don't know what to do anymore.

    So I think you're right. Sometimes you just have to breathe and know that your manuscript can carry its own weight even if you don't follow all the rules.

  2. Wouldn't it be easier if there was a secret formula to publishing success? Like if successful novels all had less than 10% passives or something like that. But I think you're right - it's about the manuscript, not the rules :)