Editing: How I do it
Believe it or not, one of y'all emailed me questions about writing. Me. The guy who has only published stories in e-zines and one, ONE, print mag, Continuum. I felt flattered, and more than a little like a charlatan, but then I remembered how many books I have picked up and put down because of inferior writing. Why should I have to be a published author to pontificate, when so many published authors so clearly suck at their craft? And I mean suck. Not naming any names, mind you. Then I realized: in surgery, we do this all the time. Folks with no academic experience whatsoever publish "How I Do It" articles, because the rest of us enjoy reading about a different perspective. You don't have to be Josef McBlough, III, PhD, MD from Haaaahvaaaahd to write one of these articles, and in fact, none of us private practice guys would listen to Joe McBlough because we all know he has residents to Do It. He couldn't take a tonsil out to save his soul. Before I launch into the How I Do It portion of our program, don't forget to check out PBW's Ten Things for Editing Novels, which includes links to Holly Lisle's articles, and PBW's article, too (her method is close to mine, with a few neurotic quirks on my part . . . more below). I haven't read all of those articles, by the way, and I'm not sure I will. (Frankly, Elizabeth Lyon's Can Your Novel Pass this Test? made me want to scream by question #2.) But, at least now you have a quickie link to other resources. By the way, don't forget to buy Renni Browne and Dave King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. This is one of my most-thumbed resource books. But back to my favorite subject (as Maureen likes to point out), me. How am I editing a 306,000 word manuscript? I never meant it to be that big. Really. I blocked it out on three-by-five cards, wrote out a modestly detailed outline (by chapters, not by scene), began writing, and promptly strayed from the outline. Halfway through the novel, I felt like Wile E. Coyote did when he raced out past the cliff's edge, paused, and realized gravity had something to say about all of this. With my ending riveted in my brain -- without that, I would have gotten lost -- I plunged on, trusting my muse, and she didn't fail me.
Edit as you goI'll never be able to write a "fast and dirty" rough draft. Misspellings, grammatical errors, tortured sentences, and even repeated words caused me physical pain. Once I noticed them, they HAD to be fixed. I reread every chapter after it was written, but by the time I'd finished the chapter, most of the basic errors were gone. Most of 'em never found their way onto the page in the first place.
Notes, notes, notesAs I wrote the first draft, problems surfaced which I knew had to be corrected. For the most part, I kept a To Do list for these items. In some cases, however, the problems were so irritating I had to go back and fix them NOW, DAMN IT! because the muse insisted. Lots of folks will tell you this is bad, that you must work through until you are done and then go back to the earlier material. I'm telling you different: it's far worse to piss off the muse.
Write for an audienceThis may have nothing to do with editing, but it has everything to do with my method. I had a real, live audience for this novel, folks who stayed with me to the very end. Knowing that I had to keep them interested forced me to focus on narrative drive and a steady increase in tension. My audience kept me writing through the dark times. If I failed, I'd be disappointing more than just me. Jona, for one, would fly across the pond and do unspeakable things to me.
Before the first read-throughWorking from my notes, I fixed what I thought were all of the major problems. Done, right? Hah!
The first read-throughI got twelve different-colored highlighters . . . Just kidding. I worked from a hard copy and corrected as I read, circling problems, writing notes here, there, and everywhere. I kept a new log of Major Problems (65 of 'em, at last count*) which I did not try to fix right away. I tried to identify consistency issues, which scenes I would slash, which scenes were missing, what didn't work, and what could work better.
The second read-throughThat's where I am right now. Simultaneously, I work from the edited hard copy, and I read/edit on the computer. I call this a read-through because yes, I really do read everything (I'm not just skipping down to the next circled word or underlined sentence). I correct the 65 Major Problems as I go, but I also keep my eyes open for new problems I may have missed the first time through. Yes, I realize I could edit this to death, but I promise you: this is the last read-through. Ach, I'm tired. I'd tell you what comes next, but I haven't made it there yet. Wish me luck. D. *These vary from the trivial to the complex. For example: 39. Naka hunt: keep all the numbers straight! 44. Think about where to break into separate novels. 45. Change Mora's name at the end (the janitor). That #44, man. It's a bitch.