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The Dangerous Power of Editing As You Go

“But you must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power…It must follow knowledge, and serve need.” ~Ursula K. LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea

I have a jar of quotes my mother gave me one year for my birthday. It has quotes from a lot of famous (and slightly famous) women. From writers to actresses to world leaders to saints, there is encouragement that speaks across generations. The idea for this jar was that whenever I needed support or encouragement that I would pull a quote from the jar and read the words I need to hear. It was a beautiful and inspiring gift, and the above quote is the one I pulled out today.

I am a huge Ursula K. LeGuin fan. I discovered her in this series of books I bought in the 90’s edited by the wonderful Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Her Earthsea series is one of my favorites and the above quote comes from the first book in that set.

As I read it, it actually made me think about the writing process. Our fearless Borg leader, Amanda, is constantly telling us to write without editing. Just get it down. As a prolific writer, she knows what she’s talking about, and so I do my best to listen to her advice. After all, if you’re going to build a rocket who are you going to ask for advice, a garage mechanic or a rocket scientist? But I struggle with not editing as I go.

When I sit down to write, I do begin just writing and not focusing on anything but that. But then, invariably, I stop and go back to read what I’ve just written and find either it’s missing information I have in my head, or it needs grammar fixes or oh, wait! I just thought of more dialogue! Thirty minutes later I am banging my head on the table (or desk) because I just spent all that time editing and I forgot where I was going originally. Or I have totally messed up the atmosphere I was trying to create. Or, I wrote myself into a corner and can’t figure out how to get out of it. AMANDA!!! HELP!!!

Yep, that’s how it goes. Well, except that, fortunately, I haven’t written myself into a corner…yet. *knocks on wooden head*

We are wizards, we writers. We summon up worlds and people who don’t exist yet. We are the gods of our unique universes, and as such, we create something from nothing. But with great power comes great responsibility. We have to be omiscient. We have to know whether one single word or phrase will change the way readers will view our creations. Will this scene read better if I leave it, or does it need some revision to make it more visual, more understandable? Will my protagonist be relatable or do I need to humanize my antagonist more? What happens to the story overall?

But, as Ms. LeGuin says, you must not change a thing until you can see the effect that change will have on the story overall. Minor changes are just that. They don’t affect the world you are creating. But a whole scene change can (and does) affect an entire storyline. How would Harry Potter’s world have been, say, if J.K. Rowling (the author for those not in the know) had made the Dursley’s more likable? Would you have related more with Harry if they had been nicer to him?

What about the Hunger Games? Let’s say Suzanne Collins had made Katniss less distant towards Peeta in the beginning. If Katniss had been less antagonised by the thought of killing Peeta, how would you have felt towards her character?

There are so many ways your story can go, but before you begin to edit your story, you need to write it first without changing one pebble, one grain of sand. That can be done later when the story is written and you can see the full scope of the tale.

For now, just sit down and write.

Jesi

Rewrite, Rework and Lessons Learned

Rewrite

Several years ago, I began writing a story with a roundabout target of 50,000 words to 60,000 words. At this point, the plot and storyline don’t really matter, but the experience and its revealing lesson I think will be of tremendous help to me and perhaps other writers. In fact, this particular lesson is not over because it is going to still be quite a while until I will be ready to have my Twisted writing colleagues critique even the first few chapters.

I have, however, had a few people look at the first chapter or two of the original version – what I had thought was the final draft. Their consensus, though, was that the beginning was weak. So, I looked over the first couple of paragraphs, reworking them three or four times, but saw, at best, little to no improvement.

It tuned out that I had missed their point, which has caused some frustration, but I think it will be well worth it in the end.

Originally, I had liked the beginning as an intro to the protagonist and for creating the setting of the story. But, it was not until somewhat later when I realized it was not just the first couple of paragraphs that were the problem, but the whole beginning. Basically, that was when the learning experience started, as I had misunderstood what they were trying to convey.

As I look over the story now, these few years later and drawing from other critiques, the opening chapters, I realize, fail to spark any true interest and, like a car with a flat tire, it falls short of getting to the plot and pulling in the reader. Additionally, even though I had been generally satisfied with the background and character development, the plot, itself, was, indeed, rather weak.

Since then, I have liberated the story from my files and began to review it for a rewrite – to rework the beginning and strengthen the plot.   My thinking was to take the story and basically insert new sections, as a contractor would refurbish a building, and then shore up the links to ensure continuity.

That line of thinking, at least in this case, has not been working for me. So, I have decided on an alternate approach of coming from the opposite direction. I figure that by sticking with the same story idea, but adding some life to the plot, starting with a whole new beginning, I can write a much improved version, based on all the alleged wisdom I have gained since starting this story. Of course, I will still use much of what I have already written, like constructing a new building with some of the old walls. So, instead of writing between existing sections, as I first mentioned above, I will attempt to add as many of the original sections that will fit to the new version.

This rework is going to take some more time than originally conceived and I will have to discard at least a few of the sections, if not whole chapters, but I am already envisioning a much better and engaging draft. But then, who knows what other ideas I am destined to come up with and lessons I will learn toward improving this and future stories.

 

Early morning thoughts

cover1 (1)This week was a flurry of work as I did the final pass of edits on my latest novel before getting it to my editor. For me, editing is always the most difficult part of the writing process because it is when you have to look at your work with a dispassionate eye and be brutally honest about it. Like a number of other authors I know, once I finish this step in the process, I am convinced that this is the worst thing I have ever written and my editor has to threaten to come beat me just to get me to send it to her. That’s been especially true with this particular project.

I have joked with my fellow Twisted Writers, and others, that I’ve never met a genre I didn’t like. So far, I have published novels that run the gamut from romantic suspense to military science fiction/space opera to urban fantasy police procedurals to paranormal romance. If I were to pull out all the different things I’ve written over the years and have tossed under the bed and into the back of the closet, there would be mysteries and even a western. I remember doing what would be called fanfic today of a Terry Brooks novel which was, iirc, a take off on Lord of the Rings. But I had never before written traditional fantasy with an eye to publishing it.

Nor had I planned to.

But my muse is a crafty witch (yes, yes, I used a different word but I’m trying to be nice here) and an evil one as well. When I should have been focusing on getting the next urban fantasy novel, Nocturnal Challenge, written, Myrtle the Muse hit me over the head with a true fantasy novel, Sword of Arelion. A mix of sword & sorcery and heroic fantasy, Myrtle the Muse reminded me of a “book” I wrote years and years ago, long before I was doing this for a living, and said that was the one I needed to write now.

To give you an idea how long ago it had been since I had last thought about the book, it was on floppy discs, or so I thought. I knew I didn’t have it on any of my current backups and they go through a series of at least five different laptops and desktop units. (Well, I did have the first two chapters in an old rtf file but that was all.) So, I had to dig up an external floppy disk reader and go through the few disks I still had. Nope, not there. The dratted thing was on 3″ disks from my first “computer”, an old Amstrad unit. Sooo…, other than a few pages here and there that I found in the dreck pile under the bed, I had nothing to go by other than memory.

Which was probably a very good thing. After seeing the quality — or lack thereof — of my work back then, I probably would have run into the night screaming.

So, cocky that I had the answer to Myrtle the Muse, I told her I couldn’t write the fantasy. I had three other novels I needed to push out before the end of the year. I didn’t really remember everything that happened in the novel and, without the earlier version, I simply didn’t have the time or the desire to try to recreate it. So, go get a cuppa and let me get back to Nocturnal Challenge.

Except Myrtle the Muse is a cantankerous witch as well. She crossed her arms, shook her head and grinned. Nope. She wasn’t going to change her mind and I had to obey. After all, I am just the write. She is the muse and that means I have to do what she says. When I tried to get stubborn, she promised me scotch and chocolate if I did as she said. When I refused to fall for that — and it is very hard to turn down good scotch and chocolate — she started playing dirty. She wouldn’t let any of my other work come through.

I finally gave up and wrote the book. And, as my first readers and editor will tell you, I have whined and whinged and complained all along the way. Well, I think there was one night I kind of sort of liked it. But I think I was feverish that night. Now I’m waiting, scared to death, to hear what I figure is the inevitable — that the book sucks eggs. The rational part of me says it probably doesn’t but the fear is there.

What will I do if I do find out my fears are true? Well, after threatening a bonfire — which used to be what I did with something I wrote and then decided I didn’t like — I will have to sit down and see if the thing is salvageable. If it is, I will work on it and try to bring it up to the standard it needs to be to be released out into the public. If it isn’t, I will have to look at the reasons why and use this as a learning lesson.

Why?

Because writing is a craft we are always learning and always honing. If any of us ever get to the point where we think we have nothing else to learn, then it is time to walk away and find something else to do.

Pardon me now while I hide under the sink and braid my hair. Oh, and if anyone has an answer for why Myrtle the Muse is such an evil creature, please let me know. Maybe I can use it to deter her the next time she decides I need to write something I’ve never done before. At least I’ve got a really nifty cover thanks to mentor and friend, Sarah A. Hoyt and Dollarphotoclub.com

Just Keep Writing

Like that adorable fish, Dory, in Pixar’s Finding Nemo, sometimes when things get hard I will remind myself sometimes to “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming…” You may laugh but I’m entirely serious. 🙂 I love her little reminder to just keep going.

As a writer sometimes I need my own version of Dory’s “Just keep swimming”. I have to tell myself to Just Keep Writing.

I have the tendency, and I’m certain I am not alone on this one, to edit my work as I go.  I did a lot of this when I first started writing. I wrote three fourths of a novel, then decided I didn’t like the perspective I’d chosen. So, I went back through the whole thing and changed perspective. As a note, if at all possible, don’t ever put yourself in that position.  It’s miserable to catch all the first person perspective and switch to third. But this was my first attempt at a novel and was really just an adventure in learning what not to do. 🙂

Fortunately, I’ve learned since my earlier work to push forward instead of going back to edit. I have a novel essentially finished that I wrote following the Just Keep Writing advice. I did not spend a lot of time writing and re-writing and re-writing some more the same beginning chapters. Instead I wrote the earlier chapters (that need work) then left them and moved on to the later chapters. I now have the bones of the book and can go back now and focus on editing.  I haven’t tackled this fully, but when I set aside the time, my focus can be on improving, rather than just getting it on the page, as I was with the first draft.

But it’s not just when we try to edit as we write that we need the Just Keep Writing reminder. It’s when we get stuck, or feel we are stuck. It’s when we are not happy with what we are writing. It’s when we don’t feel like writing at all.  It’s when we are discouraged with feedback we got on a piece that is critiqued. It’s when we feel like we have nothing in the world worth sharing with the world. It’s when we are just tired and don’t feel like it. It’s when whatever it is that is holding us back from getting the words on the page tries to prevent us from moving forward.

We have to just keep writing. 🙂

Have a happy writing week!

~CJS