Sunday, October 16, 2011

I Love Editing: Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour 4

I love editing

No really, I do. I love being able to take a story and nudge it closer to what I first imagined. Many of you have seen my line -- the only story you can't fix is the one you never write. I truly believe that, though I'll concede that authors may have an occasional story that would take more time to fix than is worth the effort.

Or that can be a convenient excuse and some authors give up too easily.

But then I'm the person who finishes every first draft she starts, so my view might be slightly skewed.

Editing is about attitude. You have to want to make the story better, not merely edit because it's required. This isn't school work. This is about creating something you'll be proud to have others read.

One of the most common complaints I hear from people about editing is that they already know the story and it bores them to do the work. Come on, people. If you can't stand to look at your story a second time, then why did you even bother to write it? If it bores you, it certainly isn't going to be interesting for anyone else to read, right? If you want to be published, you better be writing things that don't bore you, let alone anyone else. You have to be writing stories you love so much you want to make them as good as possible.

Obviously, not wanting to see the story again is a very bad attitude to have and probably more often hides the true nature of why they don't want to edit: They don't want to work that hard.

Editing is hard work. For many of us, it means learning things that didn't much interest us in school -- of course back then we may not have realized those excruciating English classes would have a practical purpose later in life. So now we stack our desks with dictionaries, a thesaurus or two and a few books on grammar in hopes of finding the hidden treasures in language. We check oddities and recheck things we think we know.

We know there's not much of a chance we'll get everything right, but that's no excuse not to try.

You want to write the best book you can from the start, and learning to edit will help. After you start learning what mistake you have been making, you stop making them. This means less editing later.

Grammar is only part of it, though. The rest of editing is the part where you take scenes and make them closer to what you really wanted when you first imagined the story. You choose better words, better phrases and cut away the excess.

Overused words are a problem for many people. Here is a wonderful free tool that can be used online or downloaded called Manuscript Analyzer:  which has been a wonderful help. I especially check the frequent offenders and adverbs. Remember, though, that adverbs exist for a reason. Just don't over use them!

If you are like me, you start searching for ways to describe things with better terms. Some people do this every step of the way -- go over each line several times as they write it. I don't work that way because I lose the flow of the story. So I write fast first drafts and then I put the work aside and write something else. I come back to the first story after some time which makes it far easier to edit. A story or two between has cleared the work from my mind so that when I write, I don't see what I expect to be there, but what I had actually written.

And I have a lot of fun playing with it. Sometimes, too much fun. I don't want to let it go, which is a problem a lot of authors have when it comes to editing. Some people edit so much, thinking to get every line grammatically correct, that they take away all the flavor and style of the piece.

Editing is not about making better sentences; it's about making better stories.

This means that occasionally you are going to end up with lines which fit the story but may not fit the grammar books. Great stories are not about perfect grammar. They are about the soul of the story and the way in which the author helps us see the work.

Only you, as the author, can forge this link to the reader and you do so by wanting to create the very best story you can. And that means you have to practice the art of editing.

This is all the more important for people who have taken the Indie Author route and self-published. Poor grammar, spelling and punctuation often mar otherwise wonderful stories and will lose the author a future reader.

I guess that brings up the real question: Who are you writing for? First, you must write for yourself. If you don't like the story, you can't expect anyone else to. That doesn't mean the story has to be fun, but it has to be something you want to tell and do so well.

After you have written the story for yourself, do you want to share with others? If not, you don't need to do anything more. Put it away and read it later if you like. No more work. However, if you are an author who is writing for the public, you have more to do. Set up a schedule for it and do five pages a day then go on to write something else. Let that be your reward for getting the editing done.

And remember to watch that attitude.

If you want to get to read about nearly twenty other writers and find out what's on their nightstands, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Be sure to read tomorrow's post by Sharon Kemmerer


Catana/Sylvie Mac said...

I'm halfway through the third draft of last year's NaNo novel, and it's such a pleasure to see it finally coming together. The first draft wasn't a pile of crap, but... The second draft was decent, but the third highlights all the things I missed last time, and makes me grateful that I do have the ability to see and correct them. One of my big faults is too much exposition, so I'm working to break that up with dialogue wherever it makes more sense.

I think what most people don't get is that editing and revision are part of a learning process. Learning should be a pleasure, not a noxious burden. Otherwise, why write?

Zette said...

Yes, that's exactly right on the learning process. I have stopped making so many mistakes in the first drafts because I learned what they were in the editing process.

Attitude really is an important part of writing and editing. I started by thinking editing was like school work. Once I stopped thinking that way, things became a lot better and more fun.