Monday, June 18, 2012

Roundtable Editing Matters

Last week on our Facebook page, a reader asked if we would tackle the question of how we get through the editing process. It's a great question because all six of us have very different ideas and approaches to editing--proof there's no one way to do anything when it comes to writing--and it will be interesting hearing from all of you about how you manage the aching throb of killing your darlings.

I'm a mishmash of editing processes. I edit as I write, sometimes pondering a single word for so long I forget what I was writing about. Sometimes I write by inches perfecting the words as I go. Other times I vomit Ray Bradbury style all over the page and clean up at noon. But when the manuscript is "done"--I've typed The End and meant it--is when the real editing begins.

My latest finished work has been a double whammy of editing. I was able to get feedback from several New York publishers on the work, and, after a long discussion with my agent, I took the manuscript back with the intention of rearranging some scenes, and writing a few new ones. I sat down to read, and discovered that the voice of the novel wasn't steady through to the end. Before I began on substantive edits, I did a two month, line by line edit of the writing. It was painful, sometimes I would hold up a marked up paper to my husband, barely holding back the tears and I would say, "See? Oh what a writer I am, eh?"

After those changes, I began the substantive. Large scale edits that included cutting scenes, combining scenes, and writing new ones. I've heard back from a couple of my readers and I know there is one section of the new ending that requirers further edits (small scale thank heavens).

When it gets picked up by a publisher, there will be more edits. Polished as it is, I know there will be further edits required--it's the nature of the work. A writer produces a manuscript, but a publishing team produces at book.

Like Bonnie, I tend to edit as I go. Ray Bradbury would not have approved, but I so love the click of a good sentence that I find it hard to go forward if I don't hear it.

When my manuscript is written, I edit again to get the novel ready for the publisher. I love this process. The words never click as well as I thought they did the first time around, and this is my chance to cut words and cut some more, till they sound exactly right - to me, and for the moment.

Of course the publisher will have its own ideas, and their editor will suggest further, larger edits. The editor for my last book was Nicci Jordan Hubert - I know she edited Bonnie's novel as well - and Bonnie and I agree that Nicci is brilliant.

The edits Nicci suggested were not so fun (translation: I hated them). This was where many of my favorite scenes  met their demise, and others were shortened to a shadow of their former grandiosity. Nicci asked things of me I thought I couldn't do, but I did them.

The moment after that was my favorite, very favorite part of writing, the moment when I heard that click, and realized, I'd never really heard it properly before.

When writing my first draft, I have to force myself to keep going (inserting possible sentence changes in parenthesis) instead of stopping to polish sentences.  Too many of them get cut in the end, and it's just a waste of time to perfect them.  It's really hard to do, but it's a better way.  I concentrate on outlining before even I begin, so there isn't as much major rewriting required, but then I worry that I'm constraining my story before it even gets started.  When I do my final rewrite, I use Theodore Cheney's ideas in his book, 'Getting the Words Right'.  He suggests beginning with macro edits going from the larger picture such as story structure down to micro edits, such as word contractions. It made sense to me.

I’m quite methodical about my edits. I write three pages of terrible, awful, no-good pages per day and leave them on my desk facedown. This seems to keep the words percolating in my subconcious throughout the day. I do sneak back to my desk to pencil ideas on the back, but I don’t look at the text again until the next morning at the appointed time. Then I flesh out, cross out, and make the words pretty. And then I start again with three more pages of terrible, awful, no-good stuff. Eew!

When I’ve reached approximately 100,000 words and typed ###, I start at the beginning and comb through the pages again and again until the words sing and the story makes sense. This part is usually done with the help of my critique group. (They are very mean and very good, so I listen carefully to everything they say.)

Finally, when the book reaches the publisher, I do more edits per my editor’s wishes. Both of my editors have been kind enough to point out the good before noting the weak points. This document is like reading your own future—painful, hopeful, revealing.

The real "finally" is this: When I’m reading from my published works in front of an audience, I revise as I read. The process is never done, not like a meatloaf. It’s much more like a garden. There’s always, ALWAYS a weed to pull.

 I have found that editing fiction is very different from nonfiction. When I was writing only nonfiction, I was so disciplined to make sure that my research materials and notes were tightly arranged, the writing was simple. (I know that may sound prideful, but the editor of my first book said that it was one of the most cleanly-written books he'd ever worked on. That speaks of the preparation that went into the writing of it, a talent God gave me and for which I can take no credit.)

Since the process of writing fiction is so different (at least for me), the self-editing is also very different. It is like combing out tangles. I have used this analogy before here on NM, but it is the most apt and appropriate one I've found. Editing fiction is not something I begin to do after a first draft. It begins with the second paragraph, going back over the first paragraph and seeing how the second should follow it. Then I edit the first, second and third, then the first through fourth, and so on. 

Have you combed tangles out of a child's hair? You can't just sink your comb into the most knotted section first. You have to comb through and comb aside the hairs on top. With it successive pass of the comb, you go a bit deeper and coax out strands and bring them into straightness. Deeper and deeper, but always working from the surface back toward the knots. 

I continuously "comb" the manuscript as I go.


Julia Robb said...

Although it's really hard to do, I find that putting a manuscript in a drawer for six months really helps. When I take the manuscript out, I see things I did not see the first time, not even close.

Patti Hill said...

Six months! At one time I would have found that impossible, but circumstances have hidden my latest manuscript in a drawer until just recently. You're so right, Julia. Time provides fresh eyes.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Ah. Editing. I can't tell you how surprised I was when I realized that I enjoyed it.

Like Bonnie, I'm a mishmash of editing styles.

S. F. Foxfire said...

Editing . . . . AUGH! haha, no, just kidding. Only sometimes is it an AUGH!!! Like thinking about doing it before doing it . . . .

I've found that I have to complete the entire manuscript before I go back, and the thing I do that's become a characteristic, is I write fast, so fast I forget to put stuff in and discover scenes I didn't know I'd forgotten when I wrote something else. So my editing includes not just polishing the vomit, but adding what I didn't know I'd forgotten.

Sometimes scenes get REWORKED in ways I never saw coming. That's a God thing, I know it, because they're always 100% better than previously. :) He's the best, really. I can't take credit for anything He does through me. He's become more than a co-author. He IS the author. And a friend.

Bonnie Grove said...

Julia: So agree. I returned to my ms after several months, and that's when I started the line by line edit. HUGE difference after all that time without looking at it.
Hard to do, but worth it!

Embrace said...

Thank you Ladies for all your thoughts on editing. It is helpful to see the wide range of approaches. encouraging too that i am not the only one who struggles with it. Ugh!