Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Am I Editing To Death?

In trying to achieve the perfect first chapter have I lost my editing way? It is a very likely possibility. I'm not even going to admit how many times I've reworked the first chapter or the amount of time I've spent on it. Suffice it to say, a few times too many and way too long.

The answer lies in the fact that I have no solid editing plan. I hate to admit it but its true. I wrote a manuscript then I started to rewrite it with no idea how to go about the process efficiently. So no big surprise I got stuck on the beginning chapter. I was obsessed with perfection. After all, it needs to be perfect. Doesn't it? I have come to the conclusion it does not. It only needs to be as good as I can make it at this point in time. Its a lightbulb moment when you believe this to be true. It took me a while but I've finally got it.

I didn't always know this to be true. Months ago in an effort to find place to begin editing I searched in cyberspace for common mistakes made by first time writers. I learned I should be showing not telling and what words to avoid. I needed to avoid phrases including the words "she thought, she wondered, and she felt". Let's not forget "was" and "that". I highlighted them in one color. I got a list of overused words and highlighted them in another color. I also needed to eliminate all those "to be" verbs and highlighted them in yet another color. And then there were the "try not to use words" because it had suddenly seemed like it appeared as though I was using them too frequently. I highlighted them too. My novel was turning into a novella. I had head hopped all over the place inside of scenes. This is bad unless you are Nora Roberts, who is the queen. There were other infractions but I won't bore you.

I became bogged down trying to fix it all. I'd plug away a little at a time. I'd switch around a couple of words, change a verb and rewrite the sentence again only to eliminate it in the next glance over. I will never be a successful writer if I continue down this path. While I realize I need to put "perfection" in perspective I still need a concrete action plan for revising my work. My goal is to come up with a plan by Friday and start implementing it next week. I'll let you know how its going next Wednesday.

I imagine the process of developing a system of editing is unique to each writer. Do you read the entire manuscript, taking notes as you go, before you begin revising? Perhaps you edit blocks of text or a certain number of chapters at a time. Are highlighters and coloured pens involved?


Suse said...

Hi Karen,

It probably only helps marginally to know that most writers go through what you're going through, especially at the beginning of your writing career. Everyone will have their own method of editing, and it may not be the same for each type of writing that you may do. For example, when writing a novel, I always reread the previous day's work before I go on to this day's work. I make minor changes to anything I notice, but the rereading gets me into the flow of the story again. I don't make notes to come back to areas that bother me because I would probably lose those notes anyway. When I write short, I print off what I have so far and do major editing before I go on. I go through many versions before I am happy with the final piece. I couldn't do this with a novel though, although I suppose I could print off one chapter at a time.

One thing I tell my students about their writing is to concentrate on just one aspect of editing each time they go through their research papers, otherwise it is too overwhelming to concentrate on everything all at once. Granted these students are not writers or even aspire to be writers. They just want to get the assignment done and get a good mark.

One thing that tightens up anyone's writing is to eliminate the word 'that'. Almost 90% of the occurrence of that word can be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence. Students are always amazed at how quickly they can shorten their paper, especially when they are worried about word count.

You had also alluded to the passive verbs, such as was, were, is, are, has been, will be, thought, feel, and any other version of those words. If a writer looks at rewriting the sentences with the passive verbs and changing them to active verbs, their writing will be much stronger. It really tightens up the writing and makes it more immediate.

I think if you're concerned about not advancing past the 1st chapter, just take one editing problem and apply it to the whole manuscript before you move on to the next problem. This way you are improving the whole manuscript. Save the final edit for the continuity, etc.

Of course, this is just my opinion. What might work for me and how my brain functions, may not work for you.

Good luck with your plan for editing. Try to make it manageable and achievable so that you don't become discouraged with the enormity of what you want to accomplish.

Lu said...

Hi Karen,

Margie Lawson's "Deep EDITS" system works for me. And yes, it does involve coloured pens and highlighters. Not so much for individual words, (although I do have a list of overused words that I check for) but to make sure dialogue, setting, emotion, etc. are all on the page. I print off a chapter at a time, go through it using the system, then move on. I find it easier to work on a hard copy.

Oh, and Margie teaches her course through WriterU this May.


Karen said...

Hi Suse. Thanks for the sound advice. I struggle with active versus passive voice all the time. I think you are absolutely right, I need to concentrate on one editing principle at a time and to stop fiddling with all kinds of different problems at once. And the "that" word, it is history.


Karen said...

Hi Lu,

An article I read recently recommended working off a hard copy rather than working off the computer. She felt she read a printed page differently. I will definitely check out Margie Lawson. Thanks for the ideas.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
When you figure out an organized way of doing edits, let me know about it, will ya?

Suse is right when she says that every writer edits differently. Editing is an individual as the writing process itself. Whatever works for you is what is best.

I like Suse's idea of tackling one aspect of the editing at a time. I usually read through the first draft looking for inconsistancies. Am I missing scenes? Do I need to plant more information? Or on the other hand, are there unneeded scenes that I can cut? At this point I want to know that the plot is hanging together and that all the pieces are there. Later I'll go through it again looking for places where I can beef up the emotion. When I'm reasonably satisfied about those things I'll check for spelling, overused words, and repetitions.

I took a class from Margie Lawson once and it was very good. I'm sure her editing class would be great.

Jana Richards

Janet said...

Oh, how this hits home, Karen! As I edit my MS - again. I'm looking at tightening it up, pacing, making sure I'm in deep POV. THIS will be my last edit (someone hold me to that, will you?).

I work somewhat similar to Jana. After the MS is done, I go through it with post it notes and check for consistancy in plot and characterization. Then it goes to the specifics (word usage, POV, passive language, and killing my darlings). It's tedious, time consuming, frustrating, and worth it. Everytime I read the new version, I beam with pride.

Good luck with your edits.

Word verification - calme. Hmm, maybe a good way to tackle those edits.

Karen said...

Hey, Jana,

When I figure it out, I'll let you know.

It makes sense to read the whole ms and see how it ebbs and flows. To make the story sound and to then fix the story's components that need work. To build a strong framework and then add to it.

I am definitely going to check out Ms. Lawson.


Karen said...

Hi Janet,

I have gotten a lot of good advice today. I'm coming away with fresh resolve and a plan is formulating in my head. Thanks for the insight.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karen, the first time I heard of Margie Lawson's "Deep EDITS" system was when the SRW hosted Donna Alward and her Business of Writing Workshop back in 2007.

That system and my notes from Donna stayed with me. And they certainly helped when I took Margie's Deep EDITS class at the ACFW conference last Sept. We were told to bring our coloured highlighters and boy, did she put us to work.

This goes along with what some of you have mentioned - you need to make a hard copy to catch everything. No matter how much I don't want to believe it, I know that when I think my ms is perfect and ready for the mail, if I run off a hard copy, I'll find some more errors. It's downright depressing.

Another tip is that when you make your hard copy, use the lightest print setting that you can get away with. That way you can catch all your errors, use all your coloured highlighters, and mark up your copy without wasting too much ink. Leave the good quality ink for the final copy.

Karen said...

Hi Anita,

I am definitely going to check out the "Deep EDITS" system. I didn't know you could adjust the print setting so that's a great tip. Anything to save on ink cartridges.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karen, I didn't know about the ink thing either until I asked Donna Alward why my pages were so light. (She critiqued our synopsises or synopsi ??? when she was here)

BTW - if it weren't for deadlines, I'd tweak my stuff forever. :-)