Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Easy Peasy - Newb!

 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!)

~ Susan


  1. Awww... I would have never known if you hadn't said anything.

    I wrote a little in college, but I didn't really start trying to Become A Writer until about... mmm... seven years ago? Eight? Holy cow, that's a long time for me to be writing and still not know what the hell I'm doing.

    You sound like you've gotten most of it down. So here's just a few things that work for me.

    1) Try every single method of editing you can get your hands on. Find the ones that work for you. A year or so later, try the others again, to see if any of them fit better with you.

    2)) Read lots of other peoples' stuff. No, really. I've learned more about editing my own work from seeing mistakes and successes of other budding writers.

    3) Don't be shy to involve other people earlier in the process. You have to find someone who believes you when you say "rough draft - please ignore grammatical errors and focus only on plot." I always get irritated when I polish a draft to shiny perfection, only to be told of a giant plot hole I had completely failed to notice before.

    4) This last point may be of no use to you at the moment, but for me, most editing occurs before the story is properly written. I'm in a phase right now of rigidly outlining everything, of checking plot point and flow long before I actually do the formal writing. I basically write long rambling summaries of scenes that are part 'and then and then,' part notes to myself, and part actual prose that slips in now and then. That method soothes my need to actually write, without letting me get attached to words.

    And finally, remember that it's easier to give advice than take it (she says as she writes a three page answer full of advice), and that what works for 75 percent of writers might be not right for you. Do what works, and what makes the process enjoyable.

    Well, as enjoyable as editing can ever be.

  2. LOL, I've never thought of you as a newb, your posts here have been very insightful, and this one is no exception. I think you've given great editing advice.

    My only suggestion is to look up Holly Lisle. She has a post on one pass editing that is really awesome. I tried to put a link here, but her sight is doing a black out in protest of the internet legistration.

    I also want to reiterate what Sabrina said that I think rough drafts should be shared. The sooner you catch those glaring plot holes the better.

    I have to say I was in the same boat as you. I thought editing would be easy too, LOL. I've decided to accept the fact that nothing in writing is easy. :)

  3. I love editing! It's my favorite part. (Except for the parts that involve watching Burn Notice and Jason Bourne. I think we need to get together!)

    One of the things I do when I'm editing is to try and combine minor characters to make them more interesting. Sometimes this creates a whole new subplot. I also try to combine scenes. (I think I might write about this on Saturday, so stay tuned!)

    Deciding when to involve other people in your editing is tricky business. It's tempting to let everyone read it before I've polished it a little, because I don't yet know how bad it is. But then when I've started editing, and seen how much work there is to do, I don't want anyone to see it! I settle on going through it once and fixing any glaring mistakes and then letting it go to one or two trusted people. A good suggestion or two from new eyes is invaluable. When you find people like that, treasure them. Buy them chocolate.

  4. Thanks, guys. I forgot to add one thing that works for me, though I'm not sure why. I edit much better on paper. So I print out sections in landscape, two column so it actually looks like a book. I have no idea why this tricks me into seeing issues that need fixing better, but it does.

  5. And Melanie, you have internet! (your tag says 3:04am? Go to sleep!) Does this mean you're all moved? Hope everything went well.

  6. Hi Susan! Yeah, we finally got internet yesterday. And it was 5:04 my time. Although the "Go back to sleep" advice was still sound. :)

  7. I too love editing. I've recently learned, or at least accepted that my first draft is really my outline, and that I will be writing the story at least twice.

    This is why my latest super hero story failed. I'd only written it once, realizing by the end what the story was truly about. By then, time was up and it was submitted.

    I edit after my absolutely perfect MS is torn apart by my alpha reader. (Get a trusted alpha, you NEED this.)

    Then I start over.

    My rewrite contains only the best of what came before. Like sifting for gold, only the quality plot and words fall through.

    To be honest, I don't recommend this method. =(

  8. I'm not a fan of editing, however I am a fan of have edited. The hardest part, for me anyway, is when I start only seeing the flaws. It's so easy to give up hope, and forget what made you fall in love with the story in the first place.

    Susan, I think you are an awesome writer. I always know which story is yours on Hatrack, because it's the one I wished that I had written.

    I think all you can do is trust your own voice, trust your own stories, make them as awesome as possible, and then walk away into some new story landscape.

    Editing is often, in my experience, another word for stalling. It's scary letting you baby out into the sunlight for people to throw rocks at, or call mean names.

    Good luck with it.

    Now I'm off to edit Hatched.


  9. Editing.

    1st draft: get a review of the story's plot AND at least a couple chapters analyzed for structure and mechanics. Fix.

    2nd Draft: Maybe get another reviewer if you can, preferably someone you've groomed for the position. Someone who likes things you like and just wants to help you clean the things that disrupt/confuse the story. Fix what needs it and ONLY what needs it (don't get caught in forever editing).

    3rd Draft: Print out, go through it line by line reading OUT LOUD. Fix only what you see.

    4th step: Let it go. It's done. Lay it to rest. If it's not good enough for the world, file it away and sell it as nostalgia when you get better. Otherwise, publish it and move on.

  10. Oh, Susan, I feel your pain. I'm still in rewrites, not really editing, since I'm adding whole chapters and changing major plotlines. I love line editing. I love bright and shiny can-do-no-wrong first drafting. I struggle with everything in between.

    The Red Pen of Doom, a blog I really respect, has convinced me that hiring an editor might be worthwhile. I won't consider it until I'm really as done as I can be, but I no longer look down on paying for professional help as a cheat. If I can afford it and I feel ready to make the best use of the advice I get, I might start shopping around.

    In the meantime, I can vouch for MaryAnn as a beyond-awesome beta reader (she's mine! You can't have her yet! Oh dear, better get her that next batch...). What I love about the writing community we're a part of is that not only are people passionate about the same craft, but they also really want to help each other succeed.

    Love jsclark's list. Might have to print that and tape it to my wall.

  11. P.S. I'd been writing little anecdotes (kind of like my blog posts) for a while, but I'm only just past the two year mark for fiction--which I didn't even write as a kid, except when forced by an English teacher. So you're not alone, Newbie! :)

  12. Sarah, you made me blush. You're a beyond awesome beta reader too. So is Sheena.

    I haven't had the other Prosers beta for me yet, but from their posts, I'm pretty sure they'd be equally awesome. :)

  13. Excellent insight, everyone.

    @Dustin - I like the idea of the first draft almost as an outline. I've seen enough of your fabulous stuff to know it works well for you.

    @Sheena - I always feel the same way about your stories - absolutely adored your entry on the last hatrack contest.

    @jsclark - excellent advice, though I think #4 might be a hardest!

    @Sarah - a professional editor would be a whole new level of commitment, but I think you might be right, especially if you intend to self-publish.


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