Knowing When To Pee May Be The Hardest Thing Anyone Can Learn

Any lingering doubt I had that the editing process is just a minor and inconvenient obstacle between me and finishing my novel was removed this week.

I emailed my friend, fellow writer Caitlin Crowley, about a dream I had which featured her. I dreamed that a bunch of us were traveling through Egypt. It was 4am (in the dream) and I needed to pee so I walked outside (apparently we were traveling el cheapo: my room didn’t have its own bathroom) and she was standing there motioning for me to follow her to a tiny church next door, built into a cliff face. I really needed to pee but she said not to worry about that (which was all right for her; she didn’t need to pee.) The tiny church turned out to be an ornately decorated Greek Orthodox chapel abounding with striking colors and patterns. The lights were on and there were people praying. Then, to my left, I saw another church. It was Indian – Hindu, I think. It, too, was vibrantly decorated, and people were praying and dancing and leaving offerings. I realized that next to it was another chapel for a different religion. And beyond it, another and another, and that built into this rock was a church for every different type of religion. I was so amazed that I forgot I needed to pee! Then I woke up and guess what? I really did need to pee!

Turns out that Caitlin’s sister, Shauna, is trained in interpreting dreams (and astrology and tarot) so Caitlin sent my email to her. Shauna really knows her stuff and the interpretation that came back was a revelation. It seems that the most likely interpretation is that my dream was borne of dealing with the longer-and-harder-than-expected editing phase of my novel.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I got my novel back from my editor–Meghan Pinson–at the start of October and working through the manuscript, sentence by sentence, has been challenging. And I’m not using “challenging” as an annoyingly optimistic euphemism for “one unholy goddamned pain in the butt obstacle course from hell’s basement.” I’ve enjoyed this editing process, and learned a lot from it, but it’s raised as many questions as it’s answered.

With so much cut out, does the prose now seem choppy?
Or is that only because I know what’s been taken out?
How best do I decide if I like Meghan’s suggested edits?
Did she take out or change this word/sentence/paragraph/description/chapter because it was too wordy?
Too Australian?
Too modern?
Too amateurish?
Grammatically incorrect?
There are so many ways to write this sentence – am I writing it the best way?
After working on this for 4 years, can I even still be objective enough to make that call?

Working my way through Meghan’s edits has brought home to me that there are dozens of different ways to construct a sentence, or to approach a scene, or set a chapter, or express the narrator’s voice, or describe a character. The art of writing, I’m starting to understand, is the art of being able to see the options available and choosing which one is the best fit. Each of the churches Caitlin guided me through represented each way of writing my novel. They were each alive with color and glowed with reverence which suggests to me that there isn’t really a “wrong way”, per se, but each represented “a way” and it was up to me to find the best fit for the vision I have in my mind for my novel.

Oh, and that whole urgent need to pee thing represented my frustration with not knowing which of those choices (churches) fitted me best. It’s by making my way through each chapel and experiencing what it has to offer that I can resolve my frustrations over not knowing how best to tell my tale. Well, that and the fact that I really did need to pee…


About Martin Turnbull

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels blog is by Martin Turnbull, a Los Angeles based historical fiction author writing about the golden era of Hollywood in his series of novels set at the Garden of Allah Hotel, which stood on Sunset Blvd from 1927 to 1959. Check him out at and Facebook: "gardenofallahnovels"
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7 Responses to Knowing When To Pee May Be The Hardest Thing Anyone Can Learn

  1. Jaye says:

    I love your insights, Martin. Just remember the only hard and fast rule of writing: Thou shalt not bore thy reader. Everything else is about choice, nuance, instinct and voice. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but since I began reading your blog, you’ve really grown as a writer. It shows in how much smoother your prose is. Especially in your historical posts, your story telling confidence just shines through. Yes, you are required to agonize over the process of shaping your work into the best it can be. It’s very much worth it.

    Cool dream, too.

    • Thanks so much for your input, Jaye. As a matter of fact, no, I hadn’t been conscious of my growth as a writer so I *very* much appreciate you both you noticing it and pointing it out to me. Thanks as always!

  2. FlickChick says:

    Seeing that you were surrounded by a variety of faiths, perhaps you felt a need to “relieve” yourself of a sin or 2? Just throwing that out there (as I have no idea what you’ve been up to…) 🙂
    Enjoying your journey to publication!

  3. Linda Mansouria says:

    My gosh – I hope you have a good pee for yourself and pick the right church.

  4. Martin, thank you for sharing this journey with such honesty and authenticity. I’ll add another good rule(although truth be told, the only rule in writing is that there are none)which you may add alongside Jaye’s advice:
    Your editor’s notes are no doubt constructive, sincere and beyond a doubt, given to you to help sell more copies. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have a publisher.
    But, in the end, it’s your name on the cover and your story, told however your instinct, your education, your muse dictates you to tell it. You should indeed look at her comments, but ultimately you have the choice to agree (and thus rewrite/delete or expand) or disagree because You Are the Author.
    I hope this doesn’t muck things up for you.

    • Hey Max, no, your comments haven’t mucked or muddied things up for me. In fact I came to the same conclusion. A (good) editor’s job is to assist you to tell your story. Wouldn’t it be a fine thing if all you had to do was click “accept all edits” and voila! Finished! But the literary buck always ends, as it must, with you, the author.

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