Monday, January 16, 2012

Getting Through the Editing Process

 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; 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 only "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. Take 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 fistfuls of hair while starring blankly at their computer screens.  The beauty of this is that these same writers are most likely online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, 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!