Tune-Up Tuesday with Nanette Pitts

Every Tuesday, we take a chunk of writing and make it better. Read the raw copy, then the edited version. Feel free to leave comments and suggestions aimed at improving clarity and strengthening voice.

This week, we welcome Nanette Pitts. Below are her 500 words pre-edit.

Helen Mayfield had been a real thing of beauty while she walked among the living, as one of the living. Her hair was the color of raw honey, and had the elegant flow of waves. Her eyes held the color of the deepest tropical sea you have ever sailed across. I see her often even though she’s been dead for just over twenty-three years. Oh, and she’s my mother. The day I was born, was the day she died. She hasn’t left my side since, even when my father died just after I turned sixteen. She was always there, in her sunflower dress and brilliant white smile. I had always assumed she’d leave once he passed, she disappeared for a few days, then returned. She had said the after life was a different realm then where she was inhabiting. 

She’s always whirled in to see me off to work since aunt Anne left for vacation a few weeks ago. Aunt Anne bore the same mark I do so the ghost of my mother doesn’t surprise her. My mother died not just because she gave birth to a girl, but because I had been born into the family with the mark on my shoulder. The mark that would haunt me and make me who I am. Today there is no sight of her. I procrastinated while I got ready, taking far to long on my frizzy hair which I clearly got from my dad. I knew all the effort would be lost when I step out into the drizzly northeastern shore rain. 

I live in my apartment alone, well for the most part. The building had been built with brick. It’s square and sturdy. Built back in the sixties, originally the plan held ideas of an Inn. Turned out, the visitors who showed up, never left. These turned out to be my neighbors once I moved in a few months ago. The Montgomerys and the Blooms. I am in my early twenties, they seem to be in their early seventies. This didn’t do much for my social life, but I haven’t had much of one since my break up with Max.

The Montgomerys live next to me on the right, along with Smooches, their yappy dog. The Blooms, they live on the left of me. No pets. I felt uneasy about being nestled in between but the price was right, and close to work since I was habitually late. Each apartment consisted of one bedroom, one bath, kitchen, and small living room. The three apartments took up the second floor. The landlords had the whole bottom floor. The top floor had only one resident at the moment. They just moved in, leaving two vacant. I haven’t met the new occupant, or occupants. 

After spending far to much time, killing time, I decided it was off to work I should go. With no sight of my mother, I left. Hoping she would be here when I came home in the wee hours of the morning. 

Overall impressions:

tuneup_tuesday2I suggested Nanette move from passive verbs to active. I edited heavily in the top of this piece, encouraging her to develop a stronger hook to suck in her readers. Throughout the rest, I made minor changes, but asked several questions meant to help her flush out details.

Nanette’s edited version:

When Helen Mayfield was still among us, she had hair the color of raw honey. It flowed in elegant waves down her back. Her eyes looked like the deepest of tropical seas. She was a real thing of beauty.

 But I’m not just saying that because she’s my mother. She’s been gone for just over twenty-three years, yet my father always talked about how her hair smelled of gardenia and her eyes could hold the ocean.

 The day I was born was the day she died. She hasn’t left my side since, even when my father died just after I turned sixteen. She is always here, in her sunflower dress and brilliant white smile. I assumed she’d leave one he passed away. She disappeared for a few days but returned. She said the afterlife is a different realm from where she is now.

 My mother makes a point to whirl into my apartment, which I share with Aunt Anne, and she sees me off to work at the Witch Light. Aunt Anne left for vacation a few weeks ago, so it’s nice to have my mother come around often. My aunt and I bear the same mark on our shoulder – the one that haunts me and makes me who I am – so having my ghost mother pop in and out isn’t shocking the Aunt Anne at all.

 My right shoulder stays covered up for the most part. I keep it out of sight for fear of someone who doesn’t belong seeing it. They would know immediately what I am. The color of the mark doesn’t stand out as much as the shape. Two wings the size of a monarch butterfly float neatly in the center of my shoulder blade.

 My mother died not just because she gave birth to me and had complications. She died because I am female.

 Today, she’s not around.

 I procrastinated while I getting ready for work, taking far too long on my frizzy hair, which I clearly get from my dad. I knew all the effort would be lost once I stepped out into the drizzly northeastern shore that greeted me.

 It’s just the three of us in our apartment, in a 1960s brick three-story building. The owners originally thought they would open it as an inn of some sort. Most of the people who showed up never left. So the young hipsters from the sixties, are now my old senile neighbors.

 The Montgomerys live next to me on the right. They share space with a yappy dog they call Smooches. To my left, are the Blooms, quiet and with no pets. Having nearly dead neighbors does not do anything exciting for my social life. Which suits me fine. Besides, the price is right and it puts me close to work, which my boss likes since I’m hardly on time.

 Each apartment has one bedroom, one bath, a kitchen and small living room. Three apartments are on the second floor. The landlord has the entire first floor. The third floor only has just one resident at the moment. New neighbors, which I haven’t had a chance to meet.

 With no sight of my mother, and dreading the long night at work that lay ahead of me, I took one last glance around. As I head out the door, I hope she’ll be here when I come home in the wee hours of the morning.


Born and raised in Southern California, Nanette lives with her husband and two daughters. As a mother, she stays busy around the clock. When Nanette is not attending school meeting, going on field trips or watching her kids in extra-curricular activities, she may find a moment to spend with her husband. Mostly you’ll find her nestled in a corner with a book. Nanette’s true passion is writing though. She attends the Institute of Children’s Literature where she hopes to publish children’s books, or YA and new adult.

• • •

Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on improving clarity and strengthening voice in this piece? Did we accomplish all that we could?

Have 500 words that need a polish? Send them to us for Tune-Up Tuesday.

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