Guilty Secret: I Like Editing!

the skull

Some people hate editing. I don’t. Now I’m not talking about that prissy brand of “You really need a comma here” editing. That’s important, and it can certainly be useful, but people who like that sort of editing tend to be those who are less involved in creative writing and more all about the rules. That’s the sort of person who makes me more than a little cranky to be around.

While there’s nothing like writing twenty-four pages in one fevered sitting (my wrists ached, but I did it), there’s something even better about slowing down and reading and tweaking what you wrote.

With a rough draft, you have to get intimate. You stare at each sentence. You make every word explain itself, sometimes repeatedly. You ask it how it has earned its place. If it hasn’t, out it goes. There’s nowhere for a word to hide, no fig leaf you won’t pull away from it.

Oh and that’s just each word. Now what about POV? If you are using multiple points of view, you have to demand to know why the narrative is shifting. What’s gained? What’s lost? If your text can handle that, move on to:

Scenes. Is every scene necessary? Are any gratuitous? Have you mentioned your pet pig collection just because you like pigs or is the collection integral to the story?

Will summary tell more with less belaboring? Then summarize away!

What about half scenes? If you have half scenes, do you have good reasons that they aren’t full-blown affairs? Why are they hybrids? What’s gained? What’s lost?

Those are the two questions, actually, that you must ask yourself all along the way, no matter what you do to your pages. What’s gained by this choice? What’s lost?

I just finished (another) read through of my manuscript with a pen. Trust me, it is quite marked up. Next up will be to put in the changes and to write the missing scenes…or locate them in a previous draft and reinstate them! (The nice thing about changes are that they don’t have to be permanent. You’re allowed to change your mind.)

In multiple spots I noted “you’ve already said this.” Apparently I wanted to get those points across! I am merciless with myself. I will make fun of myself in the margins while editing. I just today wrote “Zzz…” at a particularly “talky” part. Nothing is allowed to escape the heavily wielded pen. That’s as it should be.

While I may be proud in many areas (just ask my husband), when it comes to my writing, I am egoless. Anyone may say anything about my writing, and I can remain objective. If there is a grain of truth to the criticism, I will know it. I will grasp onto it and not make that mistake again.

This is, of course, because I have confidence in my writing abilities. If you don’t have that, keep writing, keep reading, until you do have it. I’m not sure editing tips are going to help you if you don’t believe in yourself. (See Anne Lamott’s “Sh*tty First Drafts” in Bird by Bird if you need permission to not write perfectly. Then come back over here.)

When it comes to writing, you’re going to have to be totally convinced that you know how to write to edit as harshly, as lovingly, as you need to. Perhaps “harshly” is the wrong word. Be solidly sure that you know how to write, if not perfectly. Demand of yourself that you keep going until the words say exactly what you want them to say. Don’t allow less.

Here’s what I do: I read through the passage I’m editing until I catch a “ding.” I stole that from someone. My apologies because I don’t remember who said it first, but it’s true. Keep reading until you hit upon a word, a phrase, or an idea that just doesn’t sit right. Then see if you can get rid of what doesn’t work. Unkink the syntax. “Verbify” a draggy sentence.

You do know to use vivid verbs, don’t you? If you have not read Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch by Constance Hale, please stop reading and go order it. Now. (Unless you are my husband who is one of the most vivid “verbers” I know. In everyday speech, no less.) Seek and destroy passive sentences.

By the way, I will not be able to come even close to saying in one post everything there is to know about editing. There are editing checklists out there, some good ones. I’ll let you find the one that speaks most to you.

Editing shouldn’t take place until the bones of the piece are there: the basic plot has been settled and you likely have a pretty complete rough draft. If not, you might as well get your beginning, middle and end finished first. That’s another reason I don’t like those schoolmarmish editing types: they always want to edit your work too soon. Don’t do it. Don’t let them, either. Many a fine story or novel has died due to early, undue criticism. A flower just emerging from the ground does not yet bloom. Don’t expect more of your work. Not yet.

Beware plot/logic jumps. Sometimes you mention something in chapter one and contradict yourself in chapter eight. Yeah, I’ve been known to do that. Honestly, I’m not so great at catching that stuff. Perhaps you can guess that I’m a pantser, not an outliner. Although after my tortured reworking of this novel I keep saying I’m going to become an outliner in the future. Uh-huh. And I may also shave my head.

For me, those issues are easiest fixed by asking others to read it for me. Another way to do it is for me to read the work all the way through a couple of times. The problem with that is that I become self conscious and only half pay attention as I read because I feel shy of my own work. It feels immodest to enjoy it. I do note high points, but anything that wobbles at all makes me despair. Just for a moment, but enough so that I honestly can’t keep the whole flow in my head at once. I suspect that is a singular failing of mine.

Don’t confuse quantity with quality. I recently lopped over fifty pages off my WIP. I don’t mind that at all. It’s a stronger story for it. Now, that said, I will likely continue to warp and weave another block of pages back in because I got rid of a character who wasn’t working. She just couldn’t convince me that she lent anything to the party, so O-U-T and out goes she.

When you can read through the book more than once and nothing sticks out, nothing stops you, chances are any changes that you make at that point will be nervous tics. Stop. Hit “print.” And consider your work edited.

I will be a happy camper when I can do so with this novel. But I am also enjoying the journey, every syllable of it. Because to me, editing is when you get to sit back and enjoy your work, knowing you can still change things that don’t please you. Once your work is in print, it’s no longer just yours. That’s the beauty and the sorrow of it.

Not Writing Is Still Writing

This is going to be a quickly written post and a lightly edited one, because if we all waited to perfect our post, we’d never write any, right? And because I promised myself I’d take a nap, and I’m due somewhere in less than an hour, so there’s not time to do both. Or is there?

Here’s the deal with “not writing”: I’ve been gratefully spending loads of time with my WIP (work in progress). Don’t get me wrong — I adore my MC and if she were here today, I’d hang out with her all the time, I’m sure. (I already talk to and for her, so why not?) The past day or two, however, she and I have been having a different sort of quality time. Instead of steady clips of time, I can only bear to write and/or edit for an hour or so at a time. At that it’s been deep, soul-searching stuff and I really couldn’t tell you what I wrote if you asked. All I know is that this MC is causing me to dig deeper than I thought possible. To tell her story is to tell mine, even though our lives and experiences are absolutely nothing alike. (Some day I’ll do a point-by-point of how different we are, just for fun.)

As I swam yesterday, however, I was writing but not writing. No, this isn’t the usual something comes to you and it takes all of your effort not to drop the vase you are holding so you can write it down. (I DID shush Barry today so I could write down a story idea. I do not normally approve of shushing, and I don’t think he appreciated it either, but in my defense it was a really good idea. But then they ALL are, aren’t they, in that first flush? So I hereby publicly apologize to Barry for the shushing. I would say I won’t do it again, but I know I will, especially at the movies.)

The kind of writing/swimming I was doing yesterday was allowing thoughts and images to flow without trying to hook them onto anything else. I allowed them to just come and go, my mind filling and releasing. I knew they’d still be there when I wanted them, and then I sat at my computer and I wrote. Truly, I’m not sure what I wrote, but I know it was important to my MC. Was it any good? I couldn’t say — I haven’t been brave enough to go back and read it.

So even if you don’t think you’re writing because you take a break from your scheduled writing time, if you believe in your current work and are determined that you will give it as long as it takes and will not compromise an inch until your MC’s (Sorry, non-writers. “MC” stands, of course, for Main Character. My apologies.) story is told. Every. Last. Word. Of. It. Just as she wants it to be.

So I would argue that if your MC needs you to stop writing your way (because she wants to say something in a different manner or if she feels pushed around), stop writing and see how else she wants you to write, because not writing is still writing, even if you don’t see it. And just as you know when a tomato is ripe, (If you don’t know, just ask. I’m that woman who will stop you from buying unripe ones at the market — it’s all in the amount of give and the smell, you know.) when you sit at your computer (or your lovingly rediscovered, Paris 016in my case, notebook and pen) it will be there, because knowing when not to write is an important part of writing. Right? Write. Sorry, Couldn’t resist. Let’s see…forty minutes before I must leave. No nap yet and I still have to fix my hair and makeup and put on my shoes. Rats. Well, I’ve always been a reluctant napper anyway. But never a reluctant writer. 🙂

P.S. The photo is one I took of a fountain in Paris. Just because. Enjoy!