Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Oh Editing, I Hate Thee So December 29, 2010

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 7:10 PM
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Writing the first draft is easy. Or at least, relatively so. No matter what it took to get here, you now have a manuscript full of your deathless prose, words you slaved over, pulled from the depths of your heart, etc., etc. Now it’s time to rip all those lovely words into little pieces, ruthlessly slicing, dicing, and even cutting completely what are practically your children.

Yeah, editing is hard. At least for me. Some people find it easy. I don’t know if I’m just weird, or if they’re masochistic. Whatever the reason, it’s difficult for me to change a first draft into a polished manuscript ready for publication. Really difficult. In fact, often my MO is to hide the draft somewhere for six months or so, until my writing style is so different I rewrite most of it anyway. Then the cycle resumes.

However, I’m trying to survive the craziness of editing by seeking advice in – where else? – books. I’ll share some of the most helpful suggestions here:

In Chris Baty’s No Plot, No Problem (a guide to NaNoWriMo), he suggests the following approach to understanding your story’s plot arc. Divide each chapter into its component scenes and create an index card for each scene, detailing the basic action, characters involved, and contribution to the plot. Then you can set them in a line and actually see your story play out. Even better, you can rearrange, take out, or add in scenes and see how it affects the book as a whole.

I’ve seen this multiple places – if it doesn’t advance the story, cut it. That can be hard – you might have a character or scene you really like, but it’s just pointless. If so, save it – maybe you can use it somewhere else.

Finally, (I can’t remember where I read this) length is not the issue. It was in NaNo, but now it’s quality over quantity. It’s better to have a short, good book than a long book full of meaningless words.

I probably don’t sound too enthused about all of this, because honestly, editing is my nightmare. But it’s something you have to get through, so I’d better post this and get back to the grind.

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4 Responses to “Oh Editing, I Hate Thee So”

  1. Catana Says:

    I love doing the second draft, but after that, I need a break. I’m frustrated right now because I’m finishing the first draft of my NaNo novel and would love to dive right back in. But January is for the final revision of another novel that had to wait until NaNo was over. And then there are other stories to finish. And…

    But it often does help to just shove the book in a virtual drawer and let it ripen for a while.

  2. Editing is hard. Even if people find it easy as far as fixing grammar errors and smoothing out sentences I’m sure even they agonize over cutting out whole scenes (or even chapters) and killing off characters. I’m like Catana I can get through the second draft pretty well. Then the real fine tuning starts and by then I need a break. I haven’t tried sticking a story away for a while because I’m afraid I would get too involved on my next project and never return to do the final draft. Does that note card planning work for you? Many people have suggested it to me but for some reason I don’t get anywhere with it.

  3. katblogger Says:

    I tried the notecards once, but I couldn’t tell if it helped, because I eventually decided I needed to just trash the book in question. It did help me by showing me which characters were superfluous and needed to either be tied in more tightly or gotten rid of. Which I would have done, if I hadn’t just tossed the book off the face of the earth.

    • Mmm that’s an interesting observation katblogger. I was thinking only in terms of the note cards organizing scenes and ultimately coming up with an outline. I didn’t give much thought to the other information you put on the cards such as the characters involved in each scene. Maybe I’ll have to try the note cards one more time with an open mind. Perhaps it will help me tighten up my characters.


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