Monday, December 5, 2011


If you're a writer who is active on Twitter, you already know where I'm going with this.

If the moniker #stabbylove is foreign to you, allow me to clarify: It has nothing to do with vampires, sparkly or otherwise. Nor is it a reference to mass murderers, zombies or mosquitoes. For committed writers, #stabbylove is a way of life.

As you may already know: In the world of Twitter, a hashtag (#) prior to any word or phrase (always written as one long word) will list a person's status line in that thread. #stabbylove is a thread directed specifically to writers.

The gist of #stabbylove is simply this: We, as writers, all love our manuscripts. Of course! If we didn't, we wouldn't write. During that tenuous first draft, we must cling to that bookish affection like a lunatic if we wish to finish what we started. But at some point you must, in the words of Sir Thomas Quiller-Couch, "kill your darlings." In other words, we must stab our manuscript where it hurts, in order to further our craft. Every manuscript needs several layers of #stabbylove before it's finished.

Courage to "kill your darlings" is part of the writer's life. To #stabbylove your manuscript means to take those passages of which you were initially very proud, maybe even ludicrously proud, and realize those "darlings" do nothing to further the story. Readers can spot when a writer is full of himself. It is our responsibility as writers to recognize that same tendency in ourselves, before our final product goes to the presses. If we don't, our manuscript will settle into the literary sediment at the bottom of the Everchanging Book-River, along with thousands of other books which were equally printable and forgettable.

How can I show #stabbylove to my manuscript? Editing is such a necessary, bittersweet pain for every writer. Once you endeavor to treat your manuscript seriously, one of the things that should evidence itself is the need to edit your work not just once, or twice, but several times.

     * Accept up front that your manuscript will need several edits. This is non-negotiable. No matter how savvy and polished you think you are, there is always a way to improve your work. You don't want to edit endlessly, but don't make the mistake of thinking you're above the need for correction.

     * Line up several beta readers to critique your work before you start querying. Close friends and family are good for an ego boost when you first want someone to read it, but they should not comprise the sum total of beta readers. Be sure to enlist people who not only have a strong grasp of grammar and story structure, but who also don't feel quite so obligated to praise and applaud. You want to know what you're doing well, of course; but not to the neglect of receiving that hard-but-necessary constructive feedback.

     * Kill your passive voice. Of all the suggestions I'm seeing from editors and agents on Twitter and blogs, this is the one that is repeated the most frequently and fervently. For a great short primer on passive vs active voice, see the post by @sirra_girl on her blog that went up just last week.

     * Follow the #stabbylove thread on Twitter. This thread doesn't move as quickly as some others, but there are a few people who post great tips there from time to time, editor @sirra_girl being one of them. (And if you haven't already, be sure to add her to your list of Tweeps!)

    * Learn to walk away from your manuscript once in a while. Put it in mothballs and let it marinate a couple weeks, maybe even a month or two. Start another project while you wait. Then go back to it, and give your work a cold read. You will likely find that some of those "darling" passages you thought were so phenomenal before actually need some serious work.

     * Above all - never give up. This part of the editing process is when writers often get frustrated, think they're in over their heads, and quit. Don't do that. Remember - the only difference between a published author and an unpublished one is that the published author never gave up - not even when the going got tough, then brutal.

Brutal editing is the writer's crucible. If we want our literature to be proven as gold we think it is, and shine out among the collected heaps of forgettable books, we must go through it.

Those who endure #stabbylove survive. Their books are published. Those books are remembered, and stick in the guts of those who read them. That's why we're doing this, after all - isn't it?

What about you? How do you show your manuscript #stabbylove when editing?



  1. I have to admit I like passive voice (on occasion) for stylistic purposes. (I can't help it, it's the Hemingway fan inside me!) Sometimes I think it just flows better to use a "there was..." than to try to reword it in active voice. But yes... all things in moderation, and if I'm trying to write a vivid action sequence, active voice (fittingly) is much better. Passive voice tends to come out more in my descriptions.

  2. I don't think all passive voice is bad by default, but it's very easy for passive voice to make a left turn into limp, lifeless prose. When I see it used to excess, I tend to rank the writer down unconsciously.

    I am all for #stabbylove.

  3. Oh yes - passive tense definitely has it's place. But I also know that it's one of my (many) Achilles' heels in writing, so I must be on the lookout. I've got a crazy editing tactic that I stumbled across in the last week or so that helps me tremendously - will be blogging on that one soon.

  4. And of course, don't be afraid to take and learn from harsh critiques.

  5. I am so excited about #stabbylove - I've always tried to practice it, but with a name it now becomes absolutely vital! It reminds me of the first time I heard the word umami. Thanks for this - off to scrutinize my new manuscript with new eyes...

  6. Wise advice, Michael!!

    Paula - glad to help! Sometimes putting a name to our malady is half the cure. :)

  7. I'm deeply into my 2nd edit of my manuscript and the whole second half of the book is about to get stabbed. I loved it when I wrote it, but then I let it marinate (I love that you said that, because that's exactly what I was telling people I was doing when they were begging to read it - it's only the first draft people!) for two months. When I read it again, OMG it needed work! But I'm okay with dicing and slicing and yes stabbing! In the end, it will make it better. I hope.

  8. Absolutely!! I just got back some feedback today from a beta reader who pointed out a couple of glaring holes in plotlines and consistency. Mine needs some serious surgery if I'm going to have a hope of querying come April/May! (Probably more like June/July....)