Little French Habits Die Slowly

After I wrote the s – – – – – first draft of my quiet project I forwarded it to my writing group, and waited for the verdict.

The moment of truth arrived. Loud and clear. I needed a second draft. I was neither arrogant nor naïve enough to believe I wouldn’t have to rewrite.

So I did rewrite.

My mission was made easier by my writing group’s specific recommendations: a narrative arc, secondary and tertiary characters, conflict through the whole manuscript, and a satisfying resolution.

I embraced the deep revision. I wasn’t only copying one paragraph to paste it somewhere else or deleting one hundred words to replace them with different. I was digging, plowing, shaping, and trimming. Hard work with a purpose is more enjoyable, and my second draft was completed in four  weeks.

Yesterday a second moment of truth arrived. Loud and clear. Again? I thought with a drop in my stomach.

“No, no,” said my writing friend. One had volunteered for the bad news, I figured. “It’s so much better. Really,” she added, meeting my eye. “You are getting there.”

Getting there. Isn’t it always what we are trying to do with everything? Day after day. I had liked the journey of the second draft but was happy to be arrived.

“What I mean,” she said, elaborating, “is that you came a long way. You’ve got great foreshadowing.”

I sat straight on my chair. This is good news, I thought, trying to remember what I had done in terms of foreshadowing.

“Your pacing is good, too,” she went on.  More good news, I thought, exhaling a sigh of relief.

“Also,” she said. “The tone is pleasant, like you are talking to a friend, and I wanted to read more.” That’s nice, I thought, reclining in my chair.

“What we need to do now,” she added. “Is to go through your little French habits.”

Well, nobody’s perfect.

“And that is something I’m good at it,” my friend said, folding her Mac and crossing her arms.

I must have looked apprehensive since she added, “Don’t worry. My mother did the same with my work.” She paused. “She had the precision of a surgeon. When I started to write, she morphed into an editor with a scalpel and killed my grammatical errors until I could do it myself.” She smiled. “And I intend to do the same with you.”

I cleared my voice. “Umm, did you see a lot to kill?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said. “Details. Always the same, you know: correct place for adverbs and adjectives, tense…”

She’s right, of course, I thought as I listened to her “details.”

Details make the difference between polished and unfinished. Like remodeling a room or dressing up for a party. Details kill. Literally.

“Then,” my friend said. “Your manuscript will be ready for someone else to read it.”

I knew she wasn’t talking of a real reader. Yet. That was encouraging, even though I wondered why in the world had I started to write in English in the first place.

Because, a small voice whispered inside me, you made a promise to yourself, years ago, when you moved to the States, to master the language as best as possible.

You can keep an accent – please keep it, the Americans beg me – but you cannot, under any circumstances, pretend to write in English if you don’t kill your little French habits.

Of all people, I know that little habits die slowly.

So, I assumed after my first killing, a third draft will be necessary.

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