Few people talk about editing

Taro the Shiba - by _tar0_


Maybe people don’t feel like there’s a lot to say? Come edit time, gone is the thrill of the new idea. The spectacles, and scalpels come out, along with a healthy dosage of humility. It’s time to suffer the craptitude of what you’ve written. If you’re lucky, some of it will be better than you expected, but there’s always the suck – that crazy-making, soul crushing, suck. No book that was ever written was free of suck, at least not the first time around, nor the second, nor the seventh…

There are moments that I’ve thought I’d had enough, that I’ve been tempted to to trunk the novel, and let it never see daylight ever again. I’m not sure if these moments of despair are due to objective quality, or my current head space. I doubt I’ll ever know the difference. All I know is that those moments happen, and still happen. Just this past weekend, I was sorely tempted, yet again, to give up on this novel, but I persisted, and the next two chapters were a beautiful surprise. Maybe they’re not beautiful to anyone but me, but they did not feel nearly as terrible as I was bracing for. And, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Doubt’s the worst enemy you’ll face as a writer.

I don’t know if my book will ever been ‘great’, but all I can do is my best, and really, what else can we writers do?

A few more weeks to go until this draft is done, and it’ll feel so good to let it go. So so good.

I know a few of you are in the thick of edits right now. How do you get through it?

23 Comments to “Few people talk about editing”

  1. The secret, for me, is not focusing on the past, but the future: not what I’ve written, but what I’m creating now. Edits are about taking the raw materials of what I wrote in prior drafts and refashioning them into something that’s beautiful, hopefully sublime. Every time I realize what I’ve done wrong with the old draft, it hopefully comes coupled with new ideas on how to do it right, and that’s where the work begins.

    The other secret has been in having at least one or two really good critiques – people whose comments were both brutally honest but supportive, who like the story and want to see it become something better almost as much as I do. Those people are usually good at finding the flaws, which helps me figure out how to take those flaws and make them strengths.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Good critiques are invaluable! If you have good ones, hang onto them and keep them happy πŸ˜‰

      I’m slogging through the muck now mostly, since the major changes are all done. The frustrating thing for me is the prose. hehe

  2. Spreadsheets! Spreadsheets are the way! Track your progress and you can actually feel like you’re getting somewhere, not just treading water. Be strict about it as well – set a target number of words/chapters to edit per day/week.

    Also, takes breaks and let other people see your work – their reactions will remind you why you love this story so much and make you want to get back into it.

    Thirdly – don’t be afraid to be ruthless. There’s always a temptation to let stuff slide so you can reach completion sooner. Don’t be doing that. The fact you picked up on something means it’s an issue – go away, have a think about it, go for a run or something and I guarantee you’ll come up with another way of doing things that genuinely improves the story.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Oh am a fan of spreadsheets. πŸ˜‰ Sometimes I spend too much time tracking and fiddling my with spreadsheets LOL but I still do enjoy them.

      The breaks to let other people see your work is an interesting one! Good feedback certainly is motivating.

  3. Spreadsheets are depressing in my case ’cause I also track whether my word count has gone up or down…and it constantly fluctuates, lol. (I think I’ve shared it here before.) But I like the progress bars! Just a strict count down of how many of the original words I’ve combed through. (That doesn’t even begin to hint at the true extent of the work that’s gone into it, but it does serve its purpose.) Still, I use both now. Different ways of seeing what I’m doing, I guess.

    The big thing seems to be just not giving up, though. Heh.

    One thing I do–especially with chapters I dread getting around to, lol–is to recall some original inspiration I had for that section and kind of “write to it”, almost like a dedication. For me it’s more about capturing the spirit of a scene than anything else, so I let that “spirit” guide me. Also, there always needs to be at least one thing I’m excited about in every scene and chapter or else I know I’m doing something wrong.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      I think… as long as you can find a way to measure, forward progress, it can help? It’s so depressing to get stuck on one thing for a long long time.

      Oh the inspiration recollection idea is a different way of looking at it πŸ˜‰ Will need to mull that over.

  4. I seem to be one of the few writers I know of who actually enjoys editing. Everyone else is always talking about how much they hate edits.

    I write the cleanest first draft I possibly can, in an effort to cut down on the amount of editing a piece needs. If I get the grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., correct the first time around, it’s just one more bit of tedious work I can avoid later. Same with sentence structure – though that often changes during edits as each sentence has to justify its presence.

    Anything I can do to avoid doing the same work twice, I’m all in favor of, even if it means moving a bit slower.

    1. πŸ™‚ I enjoyed the first few rounds of edits, but round 7 is a bit of a slog. I suppose a lot of it has to do with your process, and I’m envious that you can manage to get through so cleanly the first time around!

  5. I agree with David about being ruthless, because if there are problems they need to be solved, not sidestepped. As Alanis teaches us, the only way out is through. πŸ™‚ Which goes along with Kenra’s point about solving problems in the first draft when possible (editing in the camera, as it were).

    I find if I leave something to fix later, it’s always more depressing when I come back to it, like encountering a problem that already beat me once.

    My method is somewhat unusual because I mostly post as I write, so I work chapter-by-chapter or part-by-part, going over each one again and again until it’s right. But I never know in advance how long a story is going to be, so I couldn’t ever have a progress bar.

    1. Ruthlessness is never a problem for me πŸ˜‰ Still it can be hard work piecing it back together. I’ve done the post as you write process before, and I really enjoyed it. Instant feedback’s wonderful, and once you’ve posted it, there’s no going back to fiddle with it anymore. I kind of miss that…

      1. “Piecing it back together” is definitely what I’m doing now. I’m working toward making a book of my mystery stories, and there was one weak link, one story in the middle that had to be replaced. Not that it was bad — I actually quite liked it — but it didn’t work if you hadn’t read my second novel, and I want this book to stand alone.

        So, now I’m writing another story to fit in that slot. But it needs to do the things the other one did, specifically introducing the same characters in the same way. It has to set up their situation, but not resolve it (a later story does that). So, I’m really breaking it down almost sentence-by-sentence and putting it back together, which is not usually how I do first drafts.

  6. Brad

    Your post reminded me of this quote from Henry Miller (I had to copy it off Luke’s blog since I don’t have the book with me). After reading his words, I got a copy of “Sexus” and read it. I found it to be full of fascinating observations on life and writing, as well as an interesting picture of bohemians living in New York in the late 20’s / early 30’s. However, it is also full of hard-core pornographic scenes (the book was put on trial before the supreme court in 1961 for obscenity, but was judged as art) so reader beware! In any event, here is a master’s words on the subject of doubt:

    β€œEvery day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”

    -Henry Miller, Sexus.

    1. Thank you for that quote, Brad. That heartache Miller talks about is very familiar. Being quiet and honest with oneself is not the easiest thing to manage, in writing, or in life.

  7. I remember getting to the edit phase and an old friend of my father telling me the best thing to do is to put it aside for a couple of months and think and work on something new before diving in. At the time I thought he was crazy … I mean, I was on a roll! The thrill of typing the words ‘The End’ was enough adrenaline to carry me through!

    I lasted about 48 hours before the soul-destroying reality came crashing down.

    The words of my family friend turned out to be quite wise (after all, he had been through the process a number of times himself). I did end up throwing it away for a month, out of sheer frustation and burn-out, and I came back with a clarity and perspective of my work I had never experienced before.

    I know you’re already head-long in the middle of the edit process, but I think you can take a step back at any time and come back refreshed, even just for a day or a couple of hours, whether writing the first chapters or editing for the final time. What appears nonsensical and futile at midnight can often be easily fixed in the bright light of the new day.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      It’s good to remember that just walking away for a little while can help sometimes. I went through the same thing you did! I was on a roll, but discovered that I really needed a break from the text, to be able to read it with a clearer eye.

  8. I’m battling that right now…going through 397 pages worth of stuff is difficult. I’m second guessing my original ideas, reworking plot structure, scenes…it’s a mess.

    I should’ve kept better track of little things (like time passing, etc). So going back and making sure everything is consistent is painstaking. Continuity is my enemy right now.

    Just yesterday, I decided to get rid of a prologue. Then I had beta readers not like that. But I hate prologues. So I had to figure out a way to incorporate some of the vital info. into the first chapter instead of a prologue. Took me three tries!!!!!

    I try to take a break – that’s the only way I can get through it. Skip a day or two.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Oh I sympathize completely with you. I think it’s the scale of the work that makes it so difficult. Also, I’ve lost count on how many rounds I’ve gone vs. my first chapter and prologue. I usually hate prologues, but the story called for one. Good luck Jay!

  9. I think a lot of our energy about editing gets lumped back into the generalities of literature when it comes time to discuss work. In generalities, we return to how we began, where the ideas came from, what affected us most strongly – none of which require us to discuss much about the nitpicking and polishing periods. I do like it when people open up about their editing practices.

    I’m almost finished with my book now. It’ll be out to beta readers in a week or so, I think. I entered with a list of global changes and applied a certain number per day. Then I did crutch words for four more days. When it was time for a fresh draft, I did daily page counts and kept a separate file for emerging meta-changes. By addressing everything and keeping metrics like page counts or and plot points, I kept on track. In the mechanical mindset, most things were simple to overcome, though often they were time consuming.

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