Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Still Not Happy With This!" - The Editing Process

Close to Ink's heart with this one ;)

When it comes to editing, one of my biggest committments is in the area of doing nothing. I'm not just being fatuous: one of the most useful techniques I find for editing is to leave a story aside for a while. Maybe a few days for a short, maybe a few months for a novel. 

Some phrases, or paragraphs, some little elements of prose bug me, and I 'fix' them, and then come back and go 'that still isn't smooth enough'. I can get quite caught up in tickling and adjusting the flow of just one sentence, and a bit of obsession can creep in. Then my 'leave it aside' thing gets thrown out of the window and I go hacking away. Other times, I look, think I see what it needs, make the adjustment, and move on. This often leads to a recurrence some time later when I trip over that same part. 

Partly, I think, this is because sometimes we can edit a thing to be smooth with the juxtaposed sentences, but yet it can still sit awkwardly in the whole paragraph. 

I love the idea of 'swooping' for editing. I like to think that a novel can be written, then have an editing swoop, catch up all the little hiccups in one thorough pass. Obviously, this does not sit well with my experiences of short term obsessions and coming back to find that something didn't really work, even after I edited it. 

My committment to 'swooping' is almost paramount, and paradoxically enough, that same committment sees me 'tinker and move on', leaving behind a number of problems and necessating another 'swoop' to catch them. 

It could go on indefinitely, but there must come a time when you say 'enough! I'm finished here.' Obviously, the more accomplished a writer you are, the easier this will be, but when it comes to editing I guess everyone has a different system. Mine is basically: write; swoop to straighten/order more effectively; swoop to neaten the prose. That's the ideal, anyway. In reality, I often make multiple passes and a short story can bug the hell out of me on a short term basis and I'll go hammer and tongues at it until I can't see the wood for the trees. 

Well I'm sure that contained a lot of useful advice. Who's next?


Ms Kitty said...

Love the blog guys!

I like to print the story on paper, read it away from the computer so I can "chew on it." Then I can write the revision on the back of the previous page.

Works great with the longer projects. Makes the whole process portable. I print maybe once a month for a long work.

Wanu said...

Woo-hoo! Hi, MsKitty! Thank you for being the first to click 'follow this blog' and another thank you for being the first to comment!

I agree, actually, that printing a story is very useful. I first came across that idea on Holly Lisle's website, and tried it, and it works very well. Unfortunately, my printer is broken at the moment! Big problem for editing novels, and for submitting, but hopefully I'll be able to sort that out in the new year.

Thanks, MsKitty, that was not just a landmark contrubution, but a great piece of editing advice.

Bookworm1605 said...

I'll have to agree it's a great tactic to let a story sit and ferment after completion. I try to finish one and start another the next day. Finish the next one and go back to the first one. The process of writing the second story purges the prejudices of the first from your mind, allowing a cleaner perspective.

Also, like Ms. Kitty, I will print out a hard copy after the first 'swoop'. There's something about the translation from electronic media to cellulose that brings the writing into focus. Then I'll read over it at a fair clip and try to make notes about the areas that seem rough. After those adjustments, one final 'swoop' and it's ready for the shredder. Shredders, that is. At FM.

Overall, though, I'm a terrible editor. Right after the first draft I think what I've got is brilliant. Then, with each subsequent pass, the luster fades just a little. Pretty soon I'm hating every stinkin word.

So, I've gone to limiting how many 'swoops' I make.

Ink said...

What would life be like without obsessions? And you just poked mine! It's got sharp teeth, so beware...

The Editing Process... and it's interesting because I don't really have an editing process in any sort of singular or standard way. I'm still deep in the exploration process, so everything is still sort of fluid, sort of opportunistic. My process is sort of a mix of rational thought and instinct, and seems to vary a bit from piece to piece.

I'm not keen on the one pass swoop process: I'm too much of a tinkerer. Which is not to say I don't see why some writers do it. Take Holly Lisle: She doesn't seem to be a writer who can take two or three years to polish up a big masterpiece and sell a lot of copies. Rather, she'll write a few books and count on them each selling fairly well, and get by on the cumulative success of the books. And successfully! She makes her living by her keyboard, and who wouldn't want that? If what it took for me to make it as a writer was writing lots of books with a one swoop edit, then sign me up. I'm there. But, really, as far as what I want from a purely artistic standard, well, I wouldn't choose the one swoop.

I like to tinker. I write a first draft, and then sometimes polish it a bit (unless there's something obvious and drastic that needs changing), and then I want some readers. I want an outside look, so I can see the piece from a different angle. Then take the feedback and do some major changes and rewrites, and then more polishing. Ideally I could test it out on some more readers at this point. Lather, rinse, repeat. Hopefully I'll be at a decent point by this time, and ready to submit.

For novels... a little different. More stages, more passes, more time in between each step. You'd think that short stories, being short, would receive more passes, as it's so much easier... but not so, at least for me. Maybe I simply care a whole lot more for the novels, and so care more about perfecting them. Perhaps they're simply harder and need more work. More room for mistakes, and more in need of multiple edits...

I've used lots of different tricks for creating distance, and I've often used the printout method. Make notes, sometimes scratching and cutting and rewriting on the page... I saw a neat one the other day, for this sort of thing: switch (either on screen or on paper) the story into a different font than the one you write in. It looks different, feels different and less familiar, and can thus help create distance. Sneaky, huh?

You got me going, Wanu... I think I'm gonna have to do a post to really formulate my thoughts on this. Editing With a Lightsaber! Coming soon to a blog near you...

Wanu said...

I've got myself thinking now. Yeah, the ideal is three big passes - writing, editing, and final editing. But the reality is hulla different, especially for novels. Let's see... from experience... write it; edit the prose; edit the scene ordering and tension enhancers; edit the prose again; put it in the queue at The Novel Club for critique; edit the prose again; read it for an overall impression in the certain knowledge that other peoplea are reading it; plan new restructuring and identify big chunks for cutting or streamiling; receive the critiques; edit again in light of critiques, maybe do something experimental, but also polish the prose again; give it to my friend Sarah who is ridiculously intelligent and incredibly widely read; read Sarah's critique and feel awful; leave the story aside for three months (possibly twelve, we're into the realm of the furthest I've ever gone here); make one final editing pass, altering the impact, effectiveness and smoothness of the whole thing; become world conquoring author.

Obvously, part of that is yet to be accomplished. But, really, this is the tip of the iceberg. I do love the idea of swooping, and I intend to make it the mainstay of my 'production line' philisophy when I'm up to speed, but the reality is that there are a lot of different stages to my editing process. Partly, for sure, because of my innate recognition that I'm still learning. But, you know, even Lazette Gifford will say, 'I'm still learning'. There has to come a point of completion, and I'm determined to start creating those points for my work.