What You Find When You’re Not Looking

“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

I’m in the process of editing my new novel. I typically enjoy this part. Or at least that’s what I say when it’s over. By that time, my memory of the pain I’ve endured has faded and words of bravado are easy to find.

When I’m editing, I’m looking for big-ticket items such as inconsistencies, fact and storyline issues, and repetition as well as the smaller, more mundane problems of typos, punctuation, and inappropriate tense changes. In other words, I’m trying to find all the things that could have gone wrong in the scope of a multi-year project. That sounds so professional. Doesn’t it? And I try to be, but it still feels a bit indiscriminate at times.

It takes me several iterations, each time finding a new problem, or an inconsistency close to the end of the novel, that needs to be fixed somewhere near the beginning. I don’t know where they’ve been hiding, but they keep popping up as though to mock me.

I rework multiple drafts trying my best to see my work with new eyes.

This back and forth and rechecking process frustrates me to no end, but I persist because I know, if I miss even the tiniest issue, it will impact the story I’m trying to tell. More importantly, it may negatively impact the reader’s experience.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered something I didn’t know about one of my characters. Why hadn’t I seen it before? Over the 100 or so times I read the thing.

It stopped me in my tracks. I apologize about the cliché, but it did. Stop me, I mean.

Who was I writing about when I created my character, Shelby Holt? Why did I make her the way she is: naïve, a little lost, and so involved in some dangerous activities. She’s the type of person who stomps on something worth keeping in an attempt to fix something else. I discovered her while working in my own garden. I stepped on a bit of flowering ground cover on my way to annihilate a weed.

And there she was. Shelby Holt. Almost totally formed in that crumb of dying phlox.

Any idea what I discovered about Shelby?

Look at her full name and she if you see it. I’ll repeat it for you. Shelby Holt.

Give up?

She has the same initials as me. Yikes.

Am I trying to disguise myself in her? Other authors have deliberately given their characters the same initials as their own as a way to tell their own story. I’ve never done this. Not consciously anyway. My work of fiction is completely fiction. I don’t base my stories on my own life.

And yet here I am with a character bearing my initials. I’m not sure what it says about her or me, but it’s worth exploring.

Does this editing business (or should I call it self-reflection) never end?

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