I can’t seem to help it. When I start in on a new book, I always take one or more of my friends on the journey. My old compadre Aaron backs up what I send him (on two different storage systems), and my friend Dale keeps and reads a copy…mostly without comment until a story is finished.
My friend and mentor Jerry Barrowcliff acts as another of my off-site storage keepers and as an unofficial editor. He’s well qualified as a “suggester” of improvements. (I mean, how many people do you know who took creative writing classes from Bernard Malamud?)
When I turn out a few pages and worry I’ll lose what I’ve written, I ship Aaron, Dale and Jerry each an electronic file. Jerry also reads along when…or if…I make progress. If he gets hooked on the story, as he did with Bitter’s Run, he runs out ahead of me, researching interesting things like “Beecher’s Bibles.” I managed to work that gem into the story of the rifle match between Ezra Shipley and Tom Beecher at Fort Hall. (Bitter’s Run, Book III, Chapter 9, Beecher’s Bibles.)
But when I pushed Bitter’s Run to my personal record of 135, 000 words, he gently suggested some judicious pruning might be in order. Vi, my wife and chief critic agreed. So…I reread the entire manuscript and reluctantly cut more than 15,000 beautiful, precious words from the story. (I did save a few really good chapters I hope to work into the next John Bitter book, but that’s another story.)
Thanks to his editorial prowess, Bitter’s Run turned out much better than it might have. So let me give public thanks for Jerry’s hint.