Monday, January 16, 2012

Getting Through the Editing Process

As I find myself with only ten'ish chapters to go in the editing process, I'm realizing more and more just how absolutely essential it is.  It's not that I didn't think it necessary for one to edit their manuscripts, it's that I didn't anticipate the amount of editing my particular manuscript would need.  As writers, we're often either blind to our own flaws, or they mask themselves so cleverly within the pages of our manuscripts that only fresh eyes can find them. 

Try it for yourself.  Tuck your "brilliant" novel away in a drawer for four months and then pull it out and tell me it's still brilliant because I can guarantee you that your whole perception of it will have changed.  Once snappy dialogue will seem bland and your originally bulletproof plot will now have more holes in it than a slice of Swiss cheese, leading to the consumption of an entire bottle of wine and a feeling of utter inadequacy.  This is why we edit.  We edit to polish, to fill in the gaping holes, and to make our readers experience the "wow" factor that our novels are intended to elicit.  But how do we get through this arduous process without wanting to slit our wrists? Well, we all have our own preferred techniques, but the six that I've personally found the most helpful are as follows:

1. Think of it as turning the mediocre into a work of art.  This is something I keep having to repeat to myself.  As much as we hate to think that what we write is anything but spectacular, the fact is, that's not always the case.  This is why we edit.  We edit, edit, and edit some more.  We add commas where they are lacking, quotation marks that were forgotten, and more "showing" where there was once "telling".  We remove paragraphs that are unnecessary, words that do nothing to add to the story, and dialogue that's more weighty than uplifting.  Truly, the editing process allows you to add that extra dash of paint to the canvas, turning your work from humdrum to astounding.

2.  When in doubt, simplify. Too many times, we as writers tend to make the uncomplicated an enigma by adding mud to crystal clear water.  We want everything we write to be poetic while failing to realize that true poetry isn't forced.  So, it's no surprise that when editing time rolls around and we re-read the "masterpiece" that we swore we wrote, it sounds more elementary than Frost.  This is when frustration kicks in making us wonder what exactly it was we were drinking when we wrote our first draft.  But, instead of doing what we can to make it better, we either scrap it completely or complicate it even further.  Simplicity is key. Instead of trying to be elegant or mistakenly believing that throwing random commas on the page will make your mess more organized, keep it short and sweet.  Your point can be powerfully conveyed in just five words, but completely lost with twenty.  Besides, editing 100,000 words is a hell of a lot easier than 200,000.

3.  Break out the vodka.  This only applies to those who aren't pregnant and of age, of course.  I'm one of those people who tends to push themselves until something is done.  If I don't accomplish what I've set out to do (whether it be writing, running an errand, or just taking a shower that day) in the time period I've allotted for it, I feel as though I've completely wasted my time.  As a writer, it's good to set goals for yourself, but just because you've set those goals doesn't mean they can't be subject to change or modification.  If you keep pushing yourself to meet unreal expectations, instead of meeting them, you'll find yourself on a one-way ticket to burn-out city before you know it.  Trust me, I've been there and it's not pretty.  I liken it to being on a cruise ship in the middle of a hurricane.  Take time to unwind. If you can't figure out where your plot went wrong or what one of your characters should say to lighten the mood, don't beat yourself over the head.  Instead, remove yourself from your work for a little bit. Talk a walk, take a nap, take a chill pill.  Just don't let the editing process consume you until you  begin to loathe it entirely.

4.  Read the works of others.  If you're like me, you learn by example.  There are times that I find myself stuck on sentence structure.  I know how I want to word something, but it just seems awkward.  Reading the works of other authors, especially those who write in a similar style as you, will help you with your structure conundrum, thus pulling you out of an editing funk.  Plus, it's always a good idea to take a break and read in order to clear your mind and make it fresh for another round of editing.

5.  Have a good bitching session then get on with it.   Let's face it, the vast majority of writers hate editing.  It's tedious, time consuming, soul-sucking, and it brings our faults as writers to light.  However, with that said, it's a necessary part of being a writer and, unless you have your own personal editorial staff, it's unavoidable.  The good news is you're not alone.  Right now (and at any given time), there are thousands of writers going through the same process as you are who are pulling out similar fist fulls of hair all while starring blankly at their computer screens.  The beauty of this is that these same writers are most likely online on Twitter, Facebook, Absolute Write, or any one of the gazillions of social media sites out there.  Reach out to them.  Have a good bitching session as, chances are, you'll find that you have a lot in common with other writers and it's always good to have someone in your corner in your time of need.

6.  Remind yourself that dreams are worth chasing.  There is a reason why you chose to write.  Whether it be in pursuit of becoming the next bestselling author, because there's a story brewing in your head that you feel needs to be shared, or because it helps you maintain a healthy level of sanity, we all write for one reason or another.  We all have dreams and the best dreams are those you have to work to attain.  There isn't anyone, shy of a celebrity, who's had their dreams handed to them.  They had to work for them.  And it takes hard work, dedication, and hardcore patience to get where you want in life.  Just think of editing as a stepping stone towards publication or fuel for the rocket ship that is poised to blast you and your novel into orbit. 

I'd like to hear from you guys and gals now.  How do you get through the tedious editing process?  Are you one of those rare anomalies who actually likes the process? 

My next post, assuming I don't go into labor in the next week or two, will focus on the great genre dilemma for writers.

Have a great week!


Sarah Pearson said...

The story I'm editing now is my first 'proper' attempt at editing. So far, I've dealt with specific issues. After that, I think it will be chapter by chapter.

Christine Murray said...

I think everyone hates editing. Which writer was it who said that all writing is editing? The first draft gives you shape, the real stuff comes after that.

James Garcia Jr. said...

Hi, Sara. I heard there was Vodka today, so here I am!! *grins* Not really. I'll stick with this one glass of White Zin.
Great post. Very witty and very true.
I don't know whether I like the editing process. I guess I just go with the flow. I'll have to get back to you on that. My edits on my second novel should drop into my e-mail any day now.
Take care.


Ross M Kitson said...

Hey Sara. Very good piece. I've self-edited three of my books so far and have come to actually enjoy the process. I tend to let the first draft cool for a month or so and go off and either read or scribble shorts. Then I load it up on the Kindle and read it like a book. That's mainly to get the flow, plot, dialogue rythmn etc. This generally leads to plot tweaks, chopped scenes and added/ rewritten bits.
Then I do the grammar, spelling and style cull (killing the adverbs and verbosity)- I used the Browne Self-Editing for Fiction Writers book.
Final read through, then I usually get two or three friends to read it... first book had about six versions!
Cheers, Ross

marsha cornelius said...

I actually like editing. But then, every circumstance is different. Working full time, I can only write on weekends and holidays. Once the first draft is finished, I feel much more in control.
Now that I know where the story is going, I can go back and tinker during the small bits of time I have.
You are absolutely right about letting the first draft sit for a few months. And it is definitely a stinker when it comes back out of the drawer!

Jessica said...

When are you due? My little bambino is supposed to grace us with her presence by March 6th. :)

I'm horrible at editing my own work. I love editing others' writing, but mine... definitely not so much.

My problem is that when I go back through my own writing, I either miss the obvious errors, or I get so stuck on the little things that I'm in danger of just rewriting the whole manuscript.

I agree with you about putting it away for a few months and then coming back to it. For me, the biggest advantage to this is that I'm not quite so emotionally attached to the writing by that point. :)

Sara Furlong-Burr said...

Sarah-That's a good idea. This is the second time I've gone through my book and I know that, know matter how many times I go through it, I'm still going to miss things. Thank god I'm not a huge perfectionist.

Christine-I agree. The first drive is more like an outlline. Real writing is born through editing.

James-I always try to keep the drinks handy. Some people actually like the editing process. Those people baffle the holy heck out of me, lol. I think my problem is that I like to finish a project and move on too quickly.

Ross-Thanks for dropping by. No matter how hard I try, I don't think I'll ever get into editing, lol. I too have a few books on editing that I reference while I'm going through my book/stories. It kills me how long it takes and makes me wonder how some writers can churn out a new book every six months. Craziness, I say.

Marsha-Oh, I'm telling you, you can smell mine a mile away. Like you, I too usually only have time to write on weekends or days off of work. I also tend to stay up way too late at night and pay for it heavily at work the next day. I keep telling myself that someday this writing thing is going to pay off and all the sleep deprivation will have been worth it.

Jessica-My daughter is due on February 29. :-) However, according to my docs, she will most likely be here earlier than that. I agree with you on editing your own work. I tend to be way too hard on myself and focus on things that probably aren't a big deal all while missing the obvious, glaring errors in the process. Have you ever tried beta readers. I've had my book beta read and the feedback was outstanding.

Peter Johnstone said...

It's difficult - i actually like my story and i find myself reading it rather than critiquing it, particularly the last bits that i haven't read a million times already. having left it alone for a while i can see bits that were important at the time but not now

Dave P Perlmutter said...

Its 5.43 in Madeira and blog hopping and came across yours and very happy to do so. Love this post, made me smile, even at this time of the morning, why am I up..only went to bed 4 hours ago. Anyway, my editor and I had a chat yesterday and we were going thru they whys and no's about editing and thankfully she loves it of course. I am a first time writer, 9 chapters in and I have re read them and changed them, its so true what you say. I will keep following your blog, very interesting. My blog, oh the story is based on true events is at

Follow and comment on the first chapter if you wish...

Good luck with the baby, not long now....

Dave Perlmutter said...

I have written 13 chapters of my book and I have gone back to the first two and boy, do they need re edited.....Also following you, follow me if you wish at:

Nice to meet you....

Dave Perlmutter

Sarah said...

I love editing. Just one of those who thinks polishing the silver is fun. My greatest influence was the editor I hired to troubleshoot my second novel. Just by looking at the way she re-ordered sentences and restored the flow, I learned to do that for myself. As for spelling, mine is fairly good, but even then things slip through after 3, 4 times of reading the same mss over and over and over - that's the part I hate.