Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Callous Editor

As I continue editing my novel, I’m discovering more about the editing process. Perhaps it’s straight-forward to many writers, but I learn more from experience than anything else, so any forewarnings from others didn’t sink in to the necessary depths to actually affect me. As I reveal what I’m doing now, I can only hope that it benefits someone else, either as revelation or affirmation.

After what should be a very open and free first draft where the mind wanders about the page, the drafts that follow should be written meticulously. The story is out, but it’s going to be in sloppy form. I like to use the second draft as a time to methodically go from paragraph to paragraph, looking at the wording and overall feel of what is written. This is the place where major changes take place. Entire paragraphs are struck down by my backspace key. Just as the Cobra Kai sensei teaches in The Karate Kid, “Mercy is for the weak!” Even if a sentence is ingenious, it needs to go if it gets in the way of the story.

If the idea within a series of poorly written paragraphs should be retained, rewrite them. I like to just give myself some open space right there on the page to try a few alternatives and see what grabs me. As long as I’m patient and honest with myself, I know I’ll fix the problem.

Objectivity is the most important thing during edit mode. Pride in a rough draft keeps a work in bad form. Certainly there’s a place for sentimental feelings, but that’s what backup copies are for. Maybe a snappy line of dialogue will make it into another story one day, so just file it away like a gift card. (I’m not the type of writer to really go fishing for text I wrote in the past, but I do like to review ideas from older stories.)

Editing takes a focused mind and a cold heart. It’s still art, but it’s ruthless and determined. Leave no sentence unread, question each transition and shape that lump of a story into something memorable.

This article is part of the Top Five Writing Improvement Articles:
1. Writing To Your Strengths Or Weaknesses – Should you write to your strengths or weaknesses? The answer varies depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
2. Writing Tools – As writers, we need to consider which tools will help us the most with our craft and have them at the ready.
3. The Callous Editor – To edit our own works well, we must divorce emotions from the process and make hard choices.
4. Writing Exercises – When thoughts seem locked up tight, try some exercises to get the sludge moving again.
5. The Jab – We need good openings to our stories, and this article shares some advice and an example from my own writing.

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