Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Editing Your Writing

And you thought I'll never talk about editing...
You're probably right. I probably would never have if I wasn't getting frustrated with it.

You see, I never used to mind editing. Not at all. It was fun, but lately, I guess I could say in the last year, editing has become more of a chore. It's gotten to the point where I dread finishing a piece just because I know I'd have to edit it after.

I don't know how you go about editing but for me it's always been a mix of editing while writing and editing at the end.
I know that the recommended way is to write a "vomit first draft" but it doesn't work for me. I have to edit while I write. Mind you, I don't edit too much during the writing process. Somewhere in between.
I also don't edit after each chapter is written, which I know some do.

So maybe if I ask you, my fellow writers, how you edit your material, my current aversion of the editing process will subside.

Here goes:
Do you edit chapter by chapter, in the middles of chapters or the whole thing?
Do you print it all and work with a hard copy or are you monitor bound?
Is your editing process different for shorts?
Anything else you'd like to tell me?

Categories: , ,


Pat Kirby said...

As a rule, the only editing I do with the first draft is piddly stuff--moving commas, fixing typos, etc.--that I encounter when reading over whatever I wrote last. I do read over recent work because it helps me get back into the characters, plot, etc.

This time around, I did a couple of revisions of early chapters because, through brainstorming, I had taken the story in a different direction.

I know the plot is too convoluted. I know I haven't explained some things; over-explained others; there are pacing issues; etc., but I don't fix anything significant until the entire beasty is done.

Then I ignore it for a month or so. Next I print out the entire work and do a once over read. From there I get down to revisions, which usually entail significant hacking and slashing.

Then off to a critique group or writing partner. Then back and more hacking and slashing. Rinse, lather, repeat until I hate the work. Out to submission land.

In general my process isn't much different for short stories. It just takes less paper to print 'em out. :)

Carter said...

I do simple editing as I go. Mostly spelling and punctuation, though I occasionally go back and add or delete a paragraph or two to fit a new idea that comes up. I will also sometimes go back a page or two and rephrase a sentence if I suddenly think of a better way to say it.

After the first draft, I do my editing on paper. It's a lot easier for me to sit and mark up a paper copy with a red pen.

My biggest problem with editing is just getting started. Very early on, I took a couple of decent starts on short stories and turned them into toilet fodder by over-editing. I guess I still carry that trauma. Once I get started, I actually enjoy the process, because I know that I am making the story better.

redchurch said...

Probably the most important thing I do is to critically examine my writing style in the abstract. I used to use lots of adverbs and qualifiers, junk language filler in my sentences. Since I've become aware how bad that stuff is,I try to exclude it from every sentence I write. I still have some problems with passive voice, but aside from that and the occasional typo, editing is a smoothie for me.

So, the hard part has been developing good writing habits. You know, those little things you get away with that you tell yourself you'll fix later--don't. I don't think it's good to edit as you go, but pre-writing edit. I just try to constantly be aware when I'm writing whether I'm using adverbs and too many qualifiers. I think I've got that down, so now I'll focus on less passive voice and more active verbage.

Otherwise, it's just a straight run. First draft is going to suck anyway right? I mean, it's never going to come out perfect on the first try. So just GO.

Where editing gets fun for me is really hammering the ideas and structure. You get to strengthen or add things to your ideas, make them as strong as you can. You also get to change the order of things if you don't like it.

I'm always unhappy with the execution of ideas, or the order of things, so rearranging that stuff during editing is the fun part for me.

It's actually the typos and language parts that are a bore for me. Not much you can do to get around that. Just do it. Try to make it fun by making sentences more active/lively. Use more metaphors or similes. Spruce it up.

The best part of editing is it's your 2nd (3rd, 4th, 5th) chance to make things cool. Let the perfectionist, the structuralist come out. Hammer those round pegs into square holes!

Jean said...

This time, I'm experimenting with interim editing. Previously, I wrote the complete first draft, then went back to edit.

I have always fixed a little thing here and there while writing. I don't consider that editing.

If I write the full first draft, I print the entire document to read it and make comments on it--obvious grammar or typo corrections, notes to myself about what I liked or didn't like. Then I start over with serious revisions.

Lately, I've been editing/revising in 30-80 page chunks (mostly because everything needs so very much work). Print them out, make revisions. Enter them in the computer. Work from there.

I use the same process whether I'm wearing shorts or sweatpants. Oh, you mean shorts...I don't know. I haven't written any shorts yet.

This process is in a constant state of flux. I'm still learning what works best for me.

Anne Merril said...

I don't edit at all until I get to the end. I always find my edits are cleaner and more agressive if I let it stew for a while.

Melly said...

Pat, it sounds like you have a well organized system. Maybe that's one of the problems I ran into with my last few projects, I edited so much I started hating the work, so I dread it now.

Carter, but I don't have spelling and punctuation errors... nah... just kiddin'.
You're making me laugh. I think I have a similar trauma, so - ouch!
I'll get past it though.

Melly said...

redchurch - pre-writing edit - I love that. That's always good advice.
You make, of course, excellent points, and each of us should concentrate on their weaknesses during the edit, add, character, tweak plot, improve langauge. Good stuff.

Oh, Jean, chunks! Of course, chunks. How did I not think of that??? Makes it so much less daunting when you don't feel doing it.
Oh, and by the way, it's funny but I too use the same process whether I'm wearing shorts or sweatpants - amazing... D) lol

Thanks Anne, from chunks to stew... :)
Yes, I know that most people say to leave it for a while, but it hasn't worked for me. Perhaps I'll try it this time.

Cavan said...

I like to write everything out longhand first. That way, when I'm typing things up, it gives me a chance to do some quick editing.

The real edit comes after the whole thing is finished, though. First comes a printout that I go over, then comes the process of reading the whole thing aloud to make sure it sounds right. Actually, I've just started doing this second step over my last two pieces - I was sceptical before, but it's worked wonders. After that, I like to have it workshopped a bit, then it's time for another quick check.

The big thing for me, though, is to learn to leave it on the shelf for a longer period of time between the finish of writing and the start of editing.

Jean said...

If you're doing chunks, choose the size that fits best with your mood or feels most appropriate to work with. The nice thing is, if you want a one line chunk or a 500 page chunk, it all works.

Chunky stew? Yum.

Good luck.

rdl said...

In my next life, I want to be an editor; I love the red pen. I'd say all of the above: as you go along for obvious/minor things and after for big changes/flaws.

Paul Darcy said...

Editin? Was dat?

I leeve all editing workings to da editer...

Actually -I do spell check and basic sentence structure editing on the fly while writing the first draft. After a piece is complete, it's printed to paper and marked up wtih copious notes.

Then it is re-written from that and printed out again. Then read by my wife who marks it up and makes suggestions. Re-written again. Process of about 3 to 10 re-writes depending on the piece.

Then off it goes to a "real" editor at a publisher to see if I can sell it.

And my helpfull "search and destroy" word list (very, so, words ending in ly, too, fro, on, no, and some others I can't recall right now.)

Trée said...

Melly, thanks for this post. So good to read the comments from your readers. Many excellent ideas. I really like Cavan's process of letting the work sit long enough to view it with fresh eyes.

Darren said...

I edit as I write, page by page, then again when I come back to it the next day. I find returning to what I wrote yesterday with a fresh pair of eyes makes all the difference.

To agree with Cavan - reading aloud is the best way for me to identify clumsy or awkward phrases, or to get a feel for something that just doesn't read quite right.

The spelling and grammar checks I tend to leave to the end.

Melly said...

Cavan, longhand???
I mean, it sounds interesting, but... longhand??? :)
I've actually tried longhand last month after my laptop broke down and I had no other computer. My progress was abysmall.
Oh, and I know, I need to learn to leave it alone for a while as well.

Jean, I like your idea of one line chunks even better. At this rate it will take me ten times longer to edit than it had taken to write :)

rdl, I've heard from very good sources that editors have a tough life. Other than reading lots of crap, they also get lots of crap from the writers they work with. Please, I urge you to reconsider ;)

Paul, editin is when you spell editin right - LOL, that was funny!
Yeah, I once went through an entire manuscript and took care of literally all the 'ly's. Boy, I was pissed I remember.

Trée, yup, Cavan has some good ideas. Always.
(But then so do all of them :)

Darren, page by page? That's a new one. Hey, whatever works, right?
Yes, reading aloud is important even if it does make other people in the household wonder if you've gone mad...

Jennifer said...

Okay I probably do everything they tell you you shouldn't do but...here's my editting process.

Write a chapter at a time. Normally my writing span last about chapter (sometimes more, if that's the case I keep writing). Usually though however I usually last about a chapter then I have to go and reread and rewrite, and I ALWAYS have a thought or scene to add and usually one to delete. I don't do much deleteing though. It's mainly filling in and adding and such.

And once I finish a chapter I usually end up going back over earlier chapters because the new changes have affected something in those earlier chapters so I need to at least address it.

Then when I'm FINALLY done with the novel, only then do I go back and start butchering the novel. You know getting rid of the stuff I don't need (even though I think I need it :))

Then it's another couple go arounds of cleaning it up making sure parts all flow...

So if you could the million revisions as I work...I have to update as I go. I know you're told to just write, but that's never worked for me.

Just my two cents!

Anonymous said...

I hate editing myself, I need to hire someone eventually.

Melly said...

Yes, many people do chapter at a time. I guess I actually tend to work more with scenes rather than chapters, and my editing takes similar form.
Thanks Jennifer for that, oh, and btw, I rarely have any deleting to do. It's usually near perfect... yeah, right, I wish ;)

Lance, gosh, I'm almost feeling the same about hiring somone.

The Phoenix said...

I wouldn't know, since I haven't sat down to write a novel since college. So that's 13 years ago???

Has anyone that's commented above actually had a novel published? I'm not talking self-publishing, which any hack can do.

I'm hearing it's getting tougher and tougher to get through the slush pile these days - tougher than even just a couple years ago.

Melly said...

Of course you're right, Phoenix, it is becoming very harder and harder to do. With computers in every home today and word processing programs, many people write which increases the competition.

To answer you question though, as far as I know, most of us have some publishing credits and have worked with agents and editors.

dog1net said...

I do all my initial drafts on yellow lined paper. Guess I'm old fashioned in that sense. Once I've got a pretty good idea as to what I'm trying to write, I'll sit with Word and type out my first draft. Sometimes all I have to do is a few minor changes and corrections. Sometimes I'll spend a whole day on a paragraph or a sentence until I am satisfied I've created the desired effect. I know some people who swear by using an outline, but I tend to find that method too constricting.

Melly said...

Seems that you and Cavan like the pen and paper thing, Scot. But what it sounds like to me that you actually do a lot of editing in your head first, right?

As for outlines, yikes. They help me but I don't like them. A love/hate relationship I have with them :)

uninterlaced said...

i just write it perfect the first time. :-P

Melly said...

Hey, me too! :-)

Steven Sweet said...

***Special note: I need to practice what I preach

1) Just write and don't internalize/criticize. Get the information down.

2) Pat yourself on the back for writing

3) Figure out if the basic form and information is there and improve on that or move on to tightening the piece. (I print piece out to edit and then make the changes on the computer afterwards)

4) Let it sit for awhile (How I'm feeling about the piece determines how long that will be. Usually only a few days)

5) Read again

6) Tighten some more

7) Have someone else read it

8) Consider their suggestions

9) Let piece sit for awhile

10) Tighten some more

11) Have someone else read it

12) Print out and read one more time

13) I'm done, submit!

These steps are assuming that I'm not working on a deadline. Getting it all down is always a priority. The rest will fall in place. Outlines are always used on deadline projects.

Melly said...

Make it a 12 step program, Steven, and you got a spot in the hall of fame :)

I may not follow your steps (smiliar ones of course), but it's a really good idea to have a clear process for writing and editing. I should definitely make one.