Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tips For Editing

Editing is a weird process.  It is as much about validation as it is about a surgical removal or an precise rejection of your draft.  Editing is a cultivation of ideas.  You have planted the creative seeds and now you are marking the rows, weeding around your precious plants, fertilizing the words to grow more and applying pesticides as needed to keep the pesky critics at bay.

Editing is the building inspector who does the punch list for the builder.  The idea isn't to re-create what you made, just to make it fit the plans.  You needn't destroy the whole building to do this, but you may have to re-route the plumbing, change the light fixtures and tear out a wall or two.

With this in mind, this cultivation of your original ideas, I want to share four tips that help me in the editing process.

·         Don't Edit Until You Are Done.  Ok, I know this may be near impossible for some (like me).  The idea is to limit the editing.  Writing is a separate process from editing.  Right brain/Left brain stuff.  Don't interrupt the left brain's rhythm.  We all know how fickle it can be.  Remarkably, the right brain succumbs to pressure, the left produces when it darn well wants to.
·         Once Finished, Put Your Writing Away.  Time heals wounds and exposes new ones.  That plot you felt was watertight is actually leaking like a thatch roof.  Your formatting is wrong.  Your sentence structure needs some dusting.  Distance yourself from the writing.  Two things will happen:  you will enjoy your editing process more because you are discovering those growing plants, and the second is that you won't be editing with a closed mind.  How long to put it away?  It is entirely up to you, but two weeks seems to be a good minimum.
·         Make Three Passes.  Editing is a time-consuming process.  We miss stuff.  Plus, each edit requires a different technique.  The first edit ask:  does this make sense?  The second edit, ask:  am I clear?  The third edit, ask:  is this appealing?  In other words, edit story structure, plot twists, characters, chapters, and et cetera with the first edit.  In the second edit, look at grammar, sentence structure, punctuation and connotations.  The final edit, you edit your edits and also the way the story sounds, looks and feels.  You are looking closer at tone, consistency, and the presence of the proper elements of your target genre and audience.  In the end, you should have a polished enough story to ask some friends to provide their edits as well.  Yeah.  It can become a Sisyphean task, rolling your manuscript up that hill just to watch it roll back again for all eternity.
·         Remember That Editing Is A Finite Process.  When you are done, you are done.  Put it down and see what the left brain can come up with next.  Give your right brain a break.  It has worked overtime, for free.  The left brain gets all the credit; the right brain does all the brawny tasks of creation.  So, put your hard hat, pruner and gardening gloves down and go back to planting the seeds and building the structure of your next story.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Process Of Editing

Perhaps the most difficult thing I do as a writer is edit my own work.  You want to bring me your essay, ad copy, or novel to edit for you?  Easy stuff.  I will do a bang-up job.  I will catch inconsistencies, grammatical snafu's, punctuation taboos, gaps in plot, weak sentence structure, poor word choice, overuse of dialogue tags, formatting no-no's and help with writing directed toward your audience.  NOTE:  I am not offering my editorial services. 

When it comes to editing, I actually have a two-fold dilemma.  First, as I write, I tend to analyze my writing.  Therefore, I end up typing about 60 words per minute (if you count backspaces to erase mistakes).  I used to joke when I was younger that I would wear out an eraser before I would ever grind the pencil to a stub.  Now, I suppose I would have to say my "Bk Sp" button is the most worn button on my laptop (except maybe for the poor space button--I sometimes smack that sucker with a heavy thumb). 

The second problem I encounter is that when I edit my finished work, I miss stuff.  Easy stuff.  Embarrassing stuff.  For example:  while I was editing my most recent work—The Dark Side of Leaves—I found that in a key chapter I had killed someone off that wasn't dead.  Easy fix, but it was my third edit.  And my wife has read it and not caught it.  I just thank God that I was reading through it again looking to shorten paragraphs and excise the unnecessary parts. 

From my experience, editing can be fun.  Reading through your story can open up new imaginings.  I remember the characters I enjoyed creating.  It is nice to meet them again.  But, the best part is the feeling that "I did this."  At the same time, it is difficult to take ownership of some of the more embarrassing stuff.  And this can be a deterrent.  So can a familiarity.  It breeds more than contempt:  it can also give birth to frightening lack of discipline when it comes to the craft of editing. 

Tomorrow, I will list some points to remember when editing your work.  These tips come from years of experience from perhaps the most accomplished procrastinator in the world (I once didn't file taxes for 3 years—taxes from which I would receive a REFUND). 

Is editing difficult for you?  What is the most embarrassing "miss" you ever had?