Wednesday, November 15

#WW: You Can't Edit a Blank Page

Sometimes I feel like there hasn't been a time I haven't been editing. In journalism school we edited and edited to get our news articles just so and once they were perfect on the page we printed them out and pasted up the paper. When I moved into TV news I learned that kind of editing was simple. In television they send you out in the big, wide world, tell you to shoot good pictures and get good interviews...and then come back and make the hour of footage you just shot into a story of a minute or less. And then I started writing my own stories and learned all that editing would stand me in good sted...because writing the perfect story the first time through is truly a myth. At least for me.

But I've learned a few things along the way and editing isn't the heinous crime against creativity it once was.

First, don't tackle it all at once. There are layers to my editing. As I'm writing the first draft, I read through the previous chapter before starting fresh with a new chapter. During that pass I correct small misspellings or grammar issues. I don't allow more than that. Once the book is finished I allot time for 3 full passes: 1 to check on grammar issues, 1 to check continuity - is that character's name really Reginald? WTF was I thinking?!? - plot and flow issues (this sounds like a lot but I've found they work well together), and a final pass to see what I've overlooked. On that final pass I print out a copy in 14ish point type and some kind of color ink (lately I like blue). I find the bigger font and color change helps me catch little issues I haven't to that point.

Second, time is my friend. You know those editing layers? I don't tackle them on the first, second and third day after finishing the draft. I wait at least 2 weeks before starting any kind of editing. And I try to let at least a few days slip by before going from one draft phase to another. Those built-in waits help me 'forget' the story so each time it's like looking at it with fresh eyes.

Third, new projects are a great carrot. During those wait times, I'm not twiddling my thumbs. I'm reading - out of and in the genre I write. I'm writing - sometimes on a new book, sometimes researching a new book, sometimes just free-writing some really, truly, horribly bad poetry that will forever be locked under my bed. But I'm still working on the creative side of my brain.

The subject line up there comes from La Nora herself. She said something to that effect a few years ago and it's kind of caught on in writing circles. Because she is 100% right. You can't edit a story that hasn't been written. In some cases you can't tell a story that hasn't been edited.

Do you have an editing tip that you live by? Share in the comments!

7 comments:

  1. I always intend to wait the two weeks, but it's usually a few days instead. Even that will give me a little distance, which is really necessary when it comes to killing any of our darlings. Great post, Kristi.

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    1. I sometimes don't wait the full 2 weeks, either, Liz! It kind of depends on my schedule.

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  2. Thanks for outlining your process! I have an editing checklist for grammar and other “simple” issues like passive verbs. I sweep through my wip for each item, which can be extremely tedious (try searching for -ing words!). But it works for me at present.

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  3. I usually edit some as I go. Especially first drafts. Since I write longhand, by the time it makes it into the computer, I've tinkered with it for a while.

    But, then the final edit...that one's hard. I think it's great to wait because there are some passages that are ingrained in our heads that we need the break from it. Or maybe that's just me... :)

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    1. I agree - a little wait is important for our minds to see what is actually on the page, not what we *intended* to be on the page!

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  4. I agree with your idea of editing in layers. I feel like I have to tackle little bits of editing at a time. Maybe today I'll rewrite that love scene, or maybe I'll add a transition scene. For me it has to be one thing at a time, or the job feels too overwhelming. Wish me luck on my current editing projects. Right now I feel like I've been editing all my life, too!

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