I think to get to the point of this post I'm going to have to start with some background first. You see, I've only been writing for about two years (on my second writing anniversary coming up in a few months, I’ll tell you the story of how the American Red Cross almost killed me and how Jason Bourne saved my life – or at least jump started my writing career). Believe it or not, before that event there had been nada, zilch, not a creative word from my brain since high school.
Because of my fledgling status as a writer, I often feel insecure when I post about writing - like people are rolling their eyes saying, “Sheesh, Newb! I knew that a decade ago, at least!” Which is probably the truth (yes, even you there checking in from Malaysia – you know more than me). You’ve all just been too kind to say anything.
I’ve tried my best, though, to learn the craft of writing and practice, practice, practice. And now I find myself in possession of a bright, shiny manuscript. Or a stack of scribbled pages. Or a pile of hogwash, depending on how I feel the day you ask me about it. My novel has everything it needs to be a good story – a boy and a girl and a setting and some conflict and a few bad guys thrown in for good measure.
But what it really needs is a good editing. And editing is killing me (even now, just thinking about writing this post about editing I feel the urge to take a break and go watch another episode of Burn Notice). In every stage of writing I’ve gone through I’ve thought, ‘Oh, it will be so much easier when I’m doing X,Y, or Z.’ If I’m brainstorming, outlining will be easy. When I’m outlining, I think the actual writing will be easier. And now that the writing’s done – well, editing isn’t easier; it’s dang hard.
What I’d really love to do is turn this post over to all of you who know what you’re doing so you can share some hints on how you edit successfully – I could use the help.
Maybe to jump start the conversation, I’ll share with you my woefully Newb understanding of editing:
First, begin with examining the big arcs. Are your characters and their character progressions compelling? Does the storyline have enough meat to carry the tale to the end? Have you got your secondary storylines all tucked in at the right places? Does it all make sense? What are the gaping holes that need patching?
Second, look at each scene. Does it move the story forward, reveal information or help the reader connect with the characters? (technically scenes should do all these)
Lastly, look at sentence structure and word choice. Are sentences of varying lengths and construction? Have those pesky adverbs and weak words been culled? Does it flow smoothly when read out loud? Does it really say what you think it says? (Outside eyes are often a must on this part.) And, hardest of all for me, how’s your grammar and punctuation? (Me and commas - we’re not friends.)
Technically that seems like a straight forward plan. The hard part of writing is done, right? So editing should be easy peasy, right? Not so. Here are a few other things I’ve picked up on this learning curve from Hades. Netflix Streaming is not a writer’s friend. Chocolate might be my friend, but it is not the friend of my waistline. The thesaurus is only my friend if it doesn’t take half an hour to find that one special word. My husband remains my best friend even when his shoulder gets soggy from me crying on it.
And the number one thing I’ve learned about editing – start at the top of the above list, not the bottom. Do NOT begin with making pretty sentences because you will end up killing them (and kill most of your writing time, too). Get the plot in order, get the scenes in order, and then get the words in order.
Easy peasy. (And there’s still probably time for Burn Notice, too.)
How do you successfully edit? (Please share. Please!)