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JAN 03 - To Edit or not to Edit?

Hi there!
Today's guest is jolilightner. She's an avid reader and writer, with a lovely, very expressive turn of phrase. In fact she has set herself a target this year to work on her writing and produce a very creditable word count. And I'm honoured her LJ-visit will be helping her to kick that off! *lol*

And part of that process is what she'll be talking about today:

You’ve done it. You’ve slaved for hours, days, weeks, months, maybe years on your story or novel. You’ve typed the last period. Now comes the fun part. Editing!

Read the rest below. She highlights very succinctly what we all - or maybe should?! - struggle over.
**Read about the things she's found the worst, as a newbie writer.
**Read about the things where she's so much braver than I am!

And please feel free to offer up your own experience and advice - as authors, readers or (if I have any out there on my F-List?) editors.

To edit as you go or at the end?
To edit on screen or paper?
To be cruel to be kind to your prose????

I am an extremely newbie writer. In the last six months, I’ve only finished two short stories, although I’ve started a fair number more. I’ve discovered something strange, too. I enjoy the editing process! It certainly has it’s moments of pulling hair out, but over all I love the act of tearing the work apart. I like trashing words, sentences, whole paragraphs and sometimes half the story. I feel like the hard part is done. Once the story is on paper, all I have left is to tweak, tighten and rewrite.

One of the hardest things about editing that I’m working to improve is my need to edit as I go. This may work for some, but it keeps me from continuing with the story. It causes me to get stuck. My goal for my writing process in the future is to just do it, to just write, without worrying about fixing things until I’ve finished a scene. Shouldn’t editing be about fixing things after the process?

When I edit, I must have a hard copy in front of me. This hasn’t been a huge issue so far, seeing as everything I’ve written has been short. But I need paper and ink words, and a giant red pen. I like to scribble all over the draft, marking through words, fixing phrases, taking out repetitions. I really like doing this in my living room, away from the computer, with the TV on softly as background.

Of course, I’m not super good at this whole editing thing. Like I mentioned, I’m new to this whole shebang. I’m pretty good at editing out words and phrases that need to go, but I’m quite weak when it comes to adding elements back into the story. It’s hard for me to step away from my work, to analyze its failings and properly diagnose the right solution.

So what’s the hardest part of editing for all you writers out there? What do you enjoy most about the process? What are some of the most common mistakes newbie writers like myself make? Do you agree with me that editing should take place after the fact, or do you find you have to edit as you go? Does anyone have any tips for new writers about editing in general?

Follow this month with Clare (yes, it's all about the MEEEE...):

Jan 01 : the Cheeky Cherubs welcome us to 2009 with a pithy verse or two and the threat of piercings...
Jan 02 : sweet, sexy fiction from lilzazu, all about the perennially tricky problem of a sticky shift...

Want to grab a day to pimp, pose or pontificate? Comment HERE!!


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 3rd, 2009 01:28 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't call myself a 'pro writer' in any case...since I pretty much only write fanfiction...and I don't quite enjoy the editing process ^_^;; But I do write and I edit (sometimes *headdesk*) so I guess I can comment?

I don't edit till the end (at least, I don't read over what I wrote until I reach the end), and the only time I edit in between is if I'm stuck and I'm going back to see how to 'unstick' myself, and end up fixing something or adding something to make the scene work.

And completely opposite, I have to edit in front of the computer. I usually open up a second document and paste the writing in, and from there, I edit it. It's just so I can redo/undo editing as opposed to scribbling things out; then again I've always hated writing in things like my books or my music because I don't like the 'messy' feeling I get from doing so.

The only 'tip' I guess I have is that, if possible and you aren't meeting deadlines, to take some time away before editing. Take a day or two, or go back to it in a week. Every time I do that, I see things that I miss when I edit right after writing, even simple things like a missing word or punctuation. It probably has to do with the fact that it's so fresh in the writer's mind and that the writer knows exactly what's going on and stuff...so I find that it helps to step away and go back to it later. =)

Yay, writing! ^_^

Clare, I want to know what you think about editing, you're the pro here (that I know I mean!)
Jan. 3rd, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC)
I'm not Clare, and I'm not "pro" but I'll give you my two cents anyway ;)

I usually do open a second document for editing. After I've finished with my hard copy and have it filled cover to cover with red, I'll open a second document to make all my changes. That way if I freak out and decide I didn't want to change something after all, I still have it in the original document (or scribbled all over on the hard copy).

And I think your tip is a great one. It's so hard to remove myself from my writing, but taking a few days (I've been known to take a few weeks) away from my story helps me see the flaws.

I also think that editing when you're stuck is a great tip for new writers (such as me). Going back over what you've written helps guide the story in the right direction. And fixing a few things along the way is preferable to waiting until the end and realizing you have to toss half the story.

Thanks for sharing your editing woes and tips! :)
Jan. 3rd, 2009 02:14 pm (UTC)
Just wanted to say to joli, have you been over to shared_wisdom? For their readers' benefit and for yours - they have 'speakers' but anyone is free to post and discuss writing over there, and you could probably get some good tips and thoughts if you don't have many writers on your Flist.
I don't write fiction myself (no lack of rabid plot bunnies in my head though, just can't follow through), but I can do a mean proof read, so I'm told. That's easy, what's hard is the beta reading for someone else, like: how harsh should I be? how picky with details? with grammar? how much is my own personal, critical, taste and how much should I be imposing that on someone else's style? I imagine some of these questions could be turned on your own writing too.

When I write essays and such, I have to edit a little as I go, or I'll end up with only half sentences, really lazy, sloppy and disjointed phrasings etc because I know I'm editing later. It's me trying to put off the hard work. But it's also hard to move forward while spell-checking, so I save a lot editing for after, too. Anyway, it does seem that if you find a suitable beta reader, that's a huge help for most writers.

Hi Clare, happy new! What the heck should I talk about when my time comes? O.o
Jan. 3rd, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
Hi there! I haven't been over to shared wisdom, I'll be sure to check it out. Thanks for telling me!

Again, I haven't had much experience with beta reading. I've had one story that was beta read and submitted to a publisher (it was rejected), and I've beta read once for a published author.

In my experience as the reader, it is hard to know how picky to be. In the end I decided that if a phrase or sentence held me up in my reading and the overall flow of the story, it needed to be fixed. Sometimes I would have suggestions for the author. Other times I just had to leave a little note pointing out the awkward turn of words. Pointing out the holes in the story was relatively easy. By the end, I felt as if I was being harsh, but I kept reminding myself that if I was the writer, this is what I would want.

Which leads me to my experience as a writer having a story beta read for me. I wanted and needed for my beta to be harsh with me. I have no clue what editors are looking for, and I valued any direction I could get. Even if that meant hearing something that I didn't really want to hear. :)
Jan. 3rd, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC)
Good morning! I'm pretty new at all this so my 'system' is still evolving. I'm trying, against my nature, to churn out a first draft without worrying about the edits, but that's not easy for me to do. Also, I have a habit of putting a story away for a while then re-read from the start to get back into the feel of the story before continuing. Trouble is, I end up tweaking things as I go.

On the computer vs. on paper? I do it all on the computer.

Mistakes? Stuff I've learned, that I now watch out for...using the same word too many times in a short period of time...telling, or telling then showing, instead of simply showing.

Are you still working on your cat story?
Jan. 3rd, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC)
lol, the cat story has been put on hold. I really should open it up again and put a little more work into it.

I'm actually really bad at keeping myself from editing as I go. Being a perfectionist, I automatically want to fix things right away. But even in the short time I've been writing, I've realized that this stalls me. So I'm forcing myself to learn to let the edits be until I've completed a scene or a chapter.

And all those mistakes? I'm still working on all those, too. :)
Jan. 3rd, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
the length of the story can dictate when and how i edit. if it's just a short story/drabble length, i tend to wait until i'm finished before going back and cleaning it up. however, i do edit as i go in some cases. in places i know i've misspelled words or used an incorrect word. little things like that will distract me from writing until i fix it.

if the story is long, i tend to write a certain amount, reread and edit, then move on. when the whole of the section is done (ie; chapter), i reread and edit again for flow and continuity. reading aloud helps as well. it helps with finding rough spots or stumbling blocks. the mind will read what you wanted it to say, but when you read out loud, it will read what's written (in most cases), and that helps in catching missed words or a rough turn of phrase.

Jan. 3rd, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC)
This seems like a good method to me! If you're writing a novel, you can't very well leave the editing to the end. Unless, of course, you write it perfectly in the first place ;)

I haven't tried the reading aloud very much. I'll have to give it a go when my six year old isn't around listening :)
Jan. 3rd, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
I think I'm a poor editor of my own stuff. *lol*
I really admire the fact you can discard what you've written - even when I know how right that often is, and how much it's needed. I cling to my phrasing like a lifeline. It's only when I *really* can't make it fit anywhere that I relinquish it.
The worst I ever suffered was when I got through several 1000s of words of a story, only to realise it needed to be in a different POV. I had to HACK that apart to make it work again *lol*.

I pride myself on my grammar and spelling, but I fall for many of the Authorly Ills. I suffer passive tense, repetition and adverbitis - those are probably my worst faults!

I edit as I go, too, which really paralyses me sometimes. That's probably why I have so many stories stuck at chapter 3 (or less). It holds back the flow. Fanfiction was so much easier for that!! LOL. It didn't seem to matter as much.

Maybe that's a problem, too - that if we're publishing now, it matters more that it's 'right' (whatever that is, of course), and we're trying to 2nd guess all the time. Whereas really we should get the damned story out on paper, then look at it with an editing eye. And THEN hope it gets accepted and the attentions of a good, professional editor! I never assume that MY editing is anything more than a self-edit for grammatical errors. It needs a fresh, experienced editor's eye to bring something new to it.

I really agree with the advice to step away from your work and get some perspective. I genuinely see things afresh when I do. Not just the technical issues, but the whole tone of the story, especially dialogue. It helps me sharpen it up.
I do everything on screen - partly because I'm nervous of hard copies getting in my Sons' hands! - but one thing that works for me is copying it to an editing file in a different font. That makes me refocus on it.

And for dialogue, I'm often caught speaking aloud, screwing my face up as I take on the part of each character! It was one of the first things I was told about writing dialogue, and it really works for me. In fact, I quite often read paragraphs aloud to myself, to see how they flow. If they're plausible.

In fact, I'm in the middle of self-editing a novel right now... and I must go back and HACK more vigorously! *lol*
Jan. 3rd, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)
Discarding what I've written isn't terribly hard for me. I edit like I clean: if I don't need it, I toss it. My hang-up is figuring out what to insert in place of the discard, lol. On my cat story, I'm realizing I need to chuck about half of the 6000 word short story. What's difficult for me is putting something new in its place!

My New Year's resolution to write 50,000 words this year includes NOT submitting any of it. I've learned a great deal from my earlier rejection. I want to focus on learning to improve my writing and my writing process. Worrying about getting it published simply blocks me from doing any writing at all.

It sounds like I'm really going to have to try that reading your work out loud thing. I'm dramatic enough, it should be fun! :)
Jan. 3rd, 2009 03:43 pm (UTC)
Morning Greetings to all! *where's my coffee*

Great topic here!

Time is my friend when it comes to editing. I have to let things sit and brew and stew. Sometimes it will completely change the direction I'm going in and then out comes the machete.

I edit as I go on screen but in the long run I'm definitely a paper editing kind of gal. I twitch and fix and fidget on the computer then I have to print it out and sit down and read through. Slowly, carefully, sometimes only managing 10 pages at a time. It's the way I force myself to read it as it is rather than how my mind sees it.

Of course, it does kill many trees as no matter how many times I print and review I always find something new. Thank goodness for heavy duty shredders.

I'm also notorious for sending a piece out for submission, immediately looking at the sent copy and finding a glaring error. I now email it to myself first and look at it. Silly, isn't it? Of course, I also console myself that like a fine Persian rug there will always be a flaw.

One of my goals is to do a better job with grammar (sigh) and tense - actually to continue learning in all the technical aspects of the craft.
Jan. 3rd, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
lol, I don't think emailing it to yourself is silly at all! Another added benefit is to double check whether you've actually added the right attachtments ;)

Letting a story sit definitely seems like a good way to get a fresh look on your own piece. Getting a hard copy in front of me helps me do that, too. At least we can comfort ourselves by recycling and saving trees that way!

I think that every writer should constantly be focused on fine-tuning their craft and improving the technical aspects. Nobody's perfect, and anyone who says their writing is without flaw just hasn't had enough people read their work!
Jan. 3rd, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
Great topic, jolilightner!

I have a lot of levels of self-edit. I do a lot of dropping of words. I seem to have a knack for always picking the least likely preposition I could possibly use in the first draft. The phrases of my sentences come out all jumbled up and need to be rearranged. That's stuff I do myself. I call it playing "word Jenga." I do it continually during the writing process, whenever something strikes me as clunky.

Another thing I do, I call "repeaters." It's my shorthand for either the repetition of a peculiar word in the same story, or repetition of a common word too close together. Because the writing of a story might strech over months, while the reading of the same story might only take a few hours, repeaters are easier to spot by readers than by the writers. I recently noticed one that Steven King uses, that long grass rubbing against someone's pants "whickers." I think that's one of those words you can only use once. Maybe even over the course of multiple stories. But he wrote those stories at different times, maybe years apart, so he doesn't see the repetition. (Except where the whickering appears in the same story, in which case, I would think his editor would have noticed and said something.)

I do a paper edit on maybe the fifth pass, when my story parts are all in place and I'm just looking for minor weirdness.

I think what's hardest is the big rewrite -- when a whole part of the story just strikes me as false, and it's better to hack off a big hunk and start fresh. I'm in the midst of a 3500-word sacrifice right now, and already it was obviously the best decision I could've made, but even so, it's hard. What's confusing is that I still remember certain things that have happened in the hacked-off hunk as if they'd happened in the new version, but they haven't.

There's always so much to be conscious of when you're writing, it gets daunting at times.
Jan. 3rd, 2009 04:29 pm (UTC)
Oh god, I'm bad at repeaters. I do a 'find' sometimes, just to catch my favourites. And ever since I peppered my latest novel with 'hissed' - both too much and incorrectly, as caught by my saintly editor - I've expunged the damned word from my vocabulary *lol*.

And the rewrite...
It's like losing a literary limb, isn't it? It still feels like it's there, as if the reader should still know its content. It's like re-arranging text, too. If you're not careful, it throws the whole sense out.

Gawd, you're right, it's all getting pretty daunting...LMAO

BTW to JCP, are you still ok for Jan 7? Let me know if not, no problem. I'm just doing my 'gentle reminder' thing :).
Jan. 3rd, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC)
What I can't figure out with the phantom limb scene syndrome is why my brain keeps insisting the scene is there, despite the fact that it never felt right to begin with. I sometimes think about about writing a Vic/Crash naked romp for my own titillation just to get it out of my system, but this whole phantom scene discussion brings me to realize that I'll be positive that it actually happened. So I need to leave it where it is -- in my imagination.

Repeaters are my very worst problem, and I think we writers simply can't spot 'em ourselves.

I'm very much looking forward to the 7th, and trying to figure out a good topic.
Jan. 3rd, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jordan! It's a topic that I'm learning lots about through trial and error. Ask me again in a year how I edit, and I'm guessing my answers will be quite different. ;)
I've really been having fun hearing from writers far, far more experienced than myself talking about their editing process and giving tips and advice :)

I like how you said you have levels of self edit. For me, I have to skip that first level with the repeaters. If I try to fix those as I go along, I don't get anywhere. I ignore the fact that I'm using the same word five times in two sentences, and go back later to correct those.

Jan. 4th, 2009 12:23 am (UTC)
For me, I have to skip that first level with the repeaters. If I try to fix those as I go along, I don't get anywhere.

Yes, I absolutely agree! I actually feel like the more I fix "as I go," the less I'm actually writing, and the more I'm just stalling because I don't have a clear gut feeling of where the story is really going.

I typically don't even see my own repeaters. My editor has to point them out.

I'm in a space of writing-not-flowing, so I miss the sensation of lots of writing, editing be damned, that I endeavor to experience on my first drafts.

All that said, "word-Jenga" doesn't pull me out of the story flow too badly. Sometimes it's useful to do it for a page or two wherever I've left off when I sit down to write the next part.
Jan. 4th, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)
lol, I wish I had editors! Maybe some day... ;)

I'm inexperienced with the whole process. I can't say I've ever really been in a writing-flow-head-space. It's all just a lot of work for me still. Which is why I'm attempting to focus on improving my flow and not the technicalities, or I'll just become lost.
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