Just a not-so-quick note before I begin work. Paperback Writer has a great entry on editing today, which I find particularly useful. Everyone has their own technique for killing their darlings, but reading about how other writers do it is like shopping around for new underwear. The perfect fit is out there. You just haven’t found it yet. What I like about PBW’s method, which is something I failed to accomplish on my last book (but did on my others) is this:
The first part of my editing process is what I mentioned during the writing phase: each evening I do a light edit on the new material I’ve written that day. This is very quick, one-shot editing. I read through the work on screen, and make word, phrase and placement changes as I go along. Mentally I’m still in the writing mindset: I’m not hating the work, or myself, or poisoning everything with doubt; I’m just cleaning it up.
I do a final spelling and grammar check, make those changes, save the edited file, and I’m done. I won’t read or edit that portion of the book again until the entire novel is finished. Yes, this takes a certain amount of self-discipline and the temptation to back read and re-edit is always there. Some people enjoy doing that; it seems to serve as a reassurance to them. I’m too impatient to keep doing things over; I want to reach the finish line.
And let me tell you, that finish line is pretty darn important. Now, there’s no right or wrong way to edit (or not edit) your stories, but I can tell you from my own recent experience that trying to write on deadline while at the same time agonizing over every single word that comes out of you is not the way to go. The exception, I suppose, is if you’re chugging along and you suddenly realize that “Whoa, this story is not working.” As in, not working in the I-need-to-go-back-and-change-a-crucial-plot-point kind of way. Which, again, is what happened to me several times on this recent novel. Of course, I’m still wondering if that affected the story for better or worse, but that’s the kind of analysis that at some point becomes useless because the book has been turned in, and now it’s time to go and write something bigger and better.
My own methods of editing follow the lines of Holly Lisle’s One Pass Manuscript Revision, except I leave out the sprial bound notebook and just go right to the printed manuscript and mark my notes on the margins or on the backs of the page. And then—and this is the crucial part for me specifically, and probably not anyone else—I write the whole book all over again. I start from page one, and just type that baby right back into the computer, integrating my changes and usually thinking of new ones to add in. If I run out of time, I’ll only do a partial type in—the part of the book I think needs the most work—but ideally the whole book gets a fresh run through. It’s the best way I know of for keeping my language fresh. The problem is that it’s time consuming. It takes at least week or more to do—ten days is probably most accurate. Ten days is a lot of time when you’re on deadline.
If, however, you’re saying, “Forget editing, I just need inspiration!” then check out this article written by Annie Dillard, which should be enough to inspire even the coldest burnt out mind on the planet.
Okay, I’m off and away!