The Joy of Editing

About ten months ago I decided to sit down and write a novel. It was a crazy thing pensto do. I’d never tried to do anything like it before, and I really didn’t know what I was doing or even how the story would turn out.

I pounded out a rough first draft in about three months (a feat which amazes me now). Then I took a deep breath and started the second draft. That added about 40,000 words to the manuscript that would (later) become The Soul Thief.

It was a mess. A glorious mess, perhaps, but a mess all the same. It was written in first person point of view (the only thing I knew how to write at that point). The dialog was stilted – the two main characters voices were too much alike, and they were too slangy. They sounded modern. Plus I had too many “tells” and not enough “shows”.

After a little time away from the story I realized that it needed to be third person point of view (POV), but problem: I didn’t know how to write third person POV. So I wrote half a dozen short stories in third person and got at least a grasp of the basics. And then, I plunged back into the novel. It really felt like a plunge. Here I was going back to this story for the unheard of third time and not for any light editing. No, I was going to rewrite the whole damned thing!

And I did. It wasn’t as painful or hard as I expected. In fact the first thing I did — probably foolishly — was find and replace instances of “I” with “she”. This caused a few really weird sections and of course necessitated reviewing every piece of dialog (where “I” is kinda a common), but damn, it was worth it. I came out the other side. First and foremost, that: I came out the other side. And the book came through too, with many of the impurities burned away.

Suddenly I had a real piece of fiction on my hands, and I knew that I needed to begin the editing process. All that had come before was simply the warm up. Editing is something I’d come to love when I was writing poetry. In fact, I didn’t consider it editing; it was writing, re-writing. It was the heart of the creative process. If I was going to do anything with this story I’d created, I had to embrace editing as vital.

Editing is best done in the cold, sober light of day. I’m too enamored of my story, my characters and their actions to be objective in the heat of first creation. Or, let’s face it, the heat of reading it just a few days or weeks after writing it. I needed time.

I gave myself a month and went through the manuscript. I finished the edits and asked a few friends to read the story and tell me what they thought. I got very helpful feedback: places that confused the reader; tinny dialog; abrupt decisions…  oh and nice comments, too.

I sent off some agent queries, started on Book 2 and mucked around with short fiction. I didn’t look at Thief for three months. Then I started working my way through the story, line by line. About forty pages in, I had an idea for a novella and I put down editing to work on the novella. A month later, I picked the manuscript up again and started over, line by line. Word by word. That’s important because that extra month away allowed me to see more work that needed to be done on those first forty pages that had been “edited” already.

I know at some point I will have to say that I’m done editing it. Right now my plan is to devote time solely to editing Thief. When I’m done, I’ll go right back into Book 2. It’s been months since I looked at Book 2 and my hope is that the close scrutiny of Book 1 will help me be a better, stronger storyteller for Book 2.

 

Beth

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