April 5, 2013 by KWills
Every piece of writing needs editing. If the writer doesn’t do it, then the reader must. Forcing people to decode and mentally correct your work is not a good way to win fans and entertain people.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of proof-reading, and making sure that the meaning is clear. Other times, editing needs to be much more extensive. And editing is HARD.
The first draft was written in broad sweeps of bold colours, quite possibly while whistling tunelessly and asking “Can you tell what it is yet?” Editing is getting out the fine brush and working on the detail, sometimes adding to the existing work, sometimes painting things out. Where writers have an advantage, of course, is that we can edit as many times as we need to, and the marks will never show. We can present a polished surface to the world, and no-one will know whether it came out like that on the first try, or the fiftieth.
As Robert Cormier put it:
“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, brain surgery.”
Even if you decide to employ a professional proofreader or editor before your novel goes to print, you have to do the first stage of the editing yourself. I can’t tell you how to edit – each writer develops a different method. I can’t even really tell you how I edit, as I’ve never done it the same way twice. What I can do is share with you the edit I am working on right now, a YA novel called “The History of Haplow House”.
I started writing the first draft in late 2009, and finished it nearly ten months later. I was very happy to have got the thing written, but very unhappy with the writing itself. I would open the document again and again, looking for a place to start the massive task of editing. Again and again I would close the file, mentally exhausted and very discouraged.
At last, after nearly two years of stalling, I plucked up the courage to give my first draft to writer friend, and asked her to be brutal. When she gave the manuscript back to me, it was covered in notes, and we spent an evening going over the story point by point. She forced me to question every decision in the story, every character, every action described, every conversation. The story was stripped down to the bare essentials, and cleaned up ready for re-assembly.
Since there was so many changes, I chose to write the whole thing again from scratch, without looking at the original. I wrote the bulk of the story in under four weeks, but hit a stumbling block with the last few thousand words. I was stuck for a while, but then decided to skip ahead to the second edit.
Wait – editing BEFORE writing? Isn’t that impossible? Well, yes. It is. Because when the edit comes first, it is called an outline. I use the same basic method for both outlining and editing. It’s called the Snowflake method, and I’ll be talking about it more later in the month. Using this method, I am breaking down every part of the story into scenes, and those scenes into stages. Goal, conflict, outcome, reaction, dilemma, decision, and back to goal. Again, I’ll be discussing scenes and suchlike another day.
I’m going to stop now; this post is too wordy already; plus, it’s late and I’m tired. Also, I’m in danger of using up my material for future posts if I keep whittering on.