Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Monday, May 21, 2012

editing delirium

Celebrating my 100th posting with this offering today. It is only fitting that I should be circling around an editing loop and the cul-de-sac that is the day job is providing me with welcome respite. Thought I would take a few moments to pause and vent about the chore that is editing.

It is a universal truth that writers are not very good at editing their own work. We believe (delusionally) that the product of a first draft is special and struggle to drum up any desire to change the words already written on the page. It is a torturous task, loathed by all. It is also an unavoidable aspect of the writing process, necessary to improve the quality of the work.

I believe I am slightly more open than your typical writer when it comes to editing (including accepting feedback from others). Twenty plus years of a day job where my written work has been "refined" by people more senior than me has helped me to appreciate the value of editing in polishing a product. I still hate doing it though.

Before my (professional) editor sees my drafted work, I go through my own process. Every writer has their own technique. Mine has evolved from my experience of writing non-fiction professionally and translating concepts of good story telling from that sphere into fiction writing. I edit my work as I create the story (first 3 steps below), then I edit my work after it is written.

Step 1 - I will play around with the words in a scene as I write. While I start every scene with the road map from the synopsis ("the storyboard" as I call it - a scene by scene description of the entire book - protagonists, their motivations, what happens to them and how they respond), getting the ideas fleshed out and adapting them in response to how they look on a page (screen on my laptop) is part of the creative writing itself. This early editing is not particularly polished.

Step 2 - I will always sleep on it. Scene written, I will read it the following day and see how it hangs together. Some reworking occurs at this point. A day later, then a week later, the work always looks different in the cold light of a new day.

Step 3 - I will return to scenes several weeks later when the story drafting has progressed and 'adjust' the scenes for consistency. This is necessary step for me given my storyboard will evolve as I follow the journeys of particular protagonists down paths that were not necessarily envisaged at the start of the journey. (Aside: this is perhaps one of the main reasons I write fiction - exploring the worlds of the characters is full of discovery for them and for me.)

Step 4 - When I have a first substantive draft of a manuscript and have had a short break, I print the whole thing out (apologies to the forest for the reams of paper required) and read it through. It never fails to amaze me what I can spot on a sheet of paper that I never see on the computer screen. Aside from typos and grammar, it is probably the first time in the editing process that I see how the whole story hangs together. The pieces of paper resemble a snakes and ladders game board by the time I am done reading it through such is the amount of scribbling on it. Whole scenes, even characters can get jettisoned at this stage, certainly many are reworked. And I spend alot of time making my sentences shorter.

Step 5 - This is often done in parallel to Step 4. A handful of people I trust read through the manuscript as well. Test readers. This aspect recognises that I will not pick up all the inconsistencies in the plot or character motivations etc. Fresh sets of eyes are far better in seeing the forest through the trees. It is a helpful informal scan of the story by others that gives me food for thought on ways to improve its structure.

Step 6 - where the frustrating editing loop begins. Repeat steps 1-4 again. Sometimes again after that. It takes months to edit a manuscript for a full length novel. This is more so if there are any decisions to rewrite entire aspects of the story. I've been through one iteration of the above mentioned steps and I want to rewrite the entire first half of the fourth book to improve its pacing. If you cannot hear the sound of me sighing heavily at the prospect of the long haul ahead of me, it is not hard to imagine.

It is only after all of the above that I am satisfied enough to submit the manuscript to the professional editor. Working to a deadline, it is likely I will not be happy with what I give her because I may not finish my own editing when the hard deadline rears its ugly head. The draft by then will be more polished than the first draft committed to paper, and she will be grateful for that effort, but I will still have all the work of incorporating the professional feedback once she is done.

It will be late Spring before I come up for air.