Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Confessions of a new Editor

For those of you that heard "Something" on December 18th that you couldn't quite put your finger on but made you feel triumphant, let me say that it was probably me.

That day was the day that I wrote the two most awesome words ever in a writer's repertoire: "The End".

But it really wasn't "The End", because...

Now it's time to edit the thing.

Before I go on, though, I want to talk a little bit about Your Inner Editor.

If you're a writer (probably any kind of artist, but this is a blog about writing) you've probably heard about your inner editor and all of the various ways that you can use to silence, or turn down your inner editor.

And I used to agree with them.

Then I listened to a Writing Excuses podcast that addressed the inner editor and it was something of a game changer for me.

Mary Robinette Kowal suggested that there were two kinds of inner voices that whisper to you when you're writing.  There's an inner editor AND what she called an inner heckler.

I think that all of those articles talking about turning down the inner editor are actually talking about the inner heckler.  You know, the voice that tells you that what you're doing is crap and it'll never work and the first time that someone sees that you PUT THAT COMMA THERE?  SERIOUSLY?  WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?  YOU NEED TO FIX THAT RIGHT NOW BEFORE ANYONE SEES IT AND MAKES YOU STOP WRITING BECAUSE YOU'RE ~OBVIOUSLY~ NOT CUT OUT FOR THIS SORT OF THING...

That voice.

That's what you need to silence.  Not just turn it down, but turn it off.  As best you can, you need to unplug and toss that crap out with the trash because it's not doing you any favors.

Your inner editor (like an external editor) wants your story to be AWESOME!!!  It wants everything that you want out of your story and when it whispers to you (In a much softer voice than the heckler) it's probably got something worth listening to.  The difference is that your inner editor has something specific to say as opposed to "This sucks.  You should go play a game..."

On to Editing.

The first thing I did--which for some of you may be the hardest part of editing--was put it away in a drawer and leave it the hell alone for six weeks.  That time frame was recommended by Stephen King in his brilliant "On Writing" and, for me, the idea had legs.

Six weeks was just enough time to allow a bit of distance to grow between me and the story and it was also just long enough for me to start chafing at being away from it for so long.

Now I'm ready to sit down and start editing.  That bring me to:

Confession #1
I'm scared.

 This is my first time editing something of this scale (104,000 words.  483 printed pages).  I'm staring at a stack of pages that seems like it's a foot thick and I know that I've got more than enough rope here to hang myself.

The problem?  I want this to be good.  I want people to read this and be entertained.  I want people to not feel like they've wasted their time.

The fear is good, though, because it tells me that I still care.  It's not so good, because:

Confession #2
I let it paralyze me for a week longer than I intended.

Call it your inner heckler, call it (as Stephen Pressfield does) "Resistance", call it something else, there's a significant push back to starting something on this scale.  It's a pretty hefty undertaking, editing a novel, let alone your first novel.  And, yes, there are lots of books and blog posts (I've got several) that other folks have written to describe their process and they are quite good, but...

This is similar to reading books about performing brain surgery, or removing the engine from your car.  You can get tips and tricks enough to fill several hundred pages, but until you actually strap yourself in and DO THE WORK you're just not going to know what works for you and what doesn't.  That brings me to my next confession:

Confession #3
I'm making it up as I go.

Just as there's no one way to write, there isn't a single way to edit.  I haven't found the method that works for me yet and I fully expect (unless I'm very lucky) to have to tweak the process and let it evolve over the course of several books until I'm as effective as I can be.  That's normal and it might be part of the fun of editing, trying things to see if they work.

So, since this is a work in progress, let me share with you my plan for editing my first book.

Pass 1: Read the whole thing through just to see if it makes sense and to pick up the more howling errors.  I'm not looking at grammar, or even spelling at this point (and let me tell you, passing that stuff by is going to have to be an acquired skill for me...)  I'm going to be using a separate notebook for this and not marking up my printed copy and I'm keeping notes as brief as possible like:
Pay attention to your time line.
Make IT worse for "Character X" here...

Pass 2-X: Once I've got the biggest holes filled, I'm going to read the whole thing through again.  This time I'm paying attention to characters.  Does everyone have a complete arc?  Did anyone Disappear???  Again, I'm going to use a separate notebook for this.  This will probably be more than one pass through the book depending on the number of characters and how many arcs I can keep track of at once.

Pass X+1: Dialogue.  Do my characters sound like people?  They really should...This will be the pass that I read aloud to myself and I apologize in advance to my loved ones.

Pass X+2: I'm going to look at the actual words I'm using.  Do I use "Very" seventeen times on one page (I really hope not...)?  Am I repeating myself?  Have I fallen in love with a particular phrase, etc.  I'm also looking for places where I can clean up my prose.  Not removing big chunks of story (that will be in a previous pass) but trimming away the padding.  I'll probably still use the notebook for this pass as well.

Pass X+3: Line Editing.  I'll probably have to You-Tube most of the original Schoolhouse Rock runs before I'm ready to handle grammar, punctuation, and spelling.  I'm also looking for cases where I might have forgotten to turn off autocorrect.

That's a minimum of 5 passes or drafts.  I'll probably start looking for Alpha readers after pass 1.  I'll need to know that the story makes sense for other folks and not just me.  After the third pass, I'll start looking for beta readers.

That's the plan, anyway...

So what about you?  Do you enjoy editing?  How many drafts do you normally go through?  Did anything here sound new or different?

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a plans to me, but the spelling, that's in your hands. After all I always did ask you how to spell something, Do you remember..?