Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why Editing is Much Harder Than They Say

Picture this:

You write a paragraph that says exactly what you want it to say. It sounds good. It captures all the feelings and emotions that you want it to. It flows well. Everything is good with the paragraph.

You hit the "Enter" key. Type a new paragraph. The same thing happens! A good paragraph! As a writer, you're pleased.

Now you go back to the first paragraph. You read it. Realize you've got a run-on sentence. That you used the word "uneasy" twice in just as many paragraphs. That while you can "hear" the pauses in the sentence in your head, your reader might not.

So you rework the paragraph. It flows even better! It sounds incredible! It's a work of art! How could you have thought it was so good the first time? The revision is so much better.

Then you move on to paragraph two. Discover that you now need a new word for "dark" to describe, well, dark, because you had to add it in to paragraph one to help the flow. Now paragraph two has some verb-tense confusion. Can you use the word "here" in someone's thoughts if they're not in italics? The word "there" doesn't fit as well, but you're not really sure. So you rework the paragraph again to remove those little gray areas.

But now paragraph two is only two sentences long. What idea were you trying to convey again? You write the paragraph over. But now you're using the same words you used in paragraph three.

...and the cycle repeats.

Throughout this editing process, it has not been uncommon for me to spend 45 minutes, or more, working and reworking three to four paragraphs at a time.

It's a frustrating, grueling, borderline-torturous process. There have been times where I have considered just skipping the paragraphs altogether. "It's a style," I've said to myself, during this process. "So it's a run-on sentence. So I've used a bunch of phrases that aren't complete thoughts. So I've used the same word twice within a paragraph of each other! It's my style! It's my voice!"

But it was always just the frustration talking. (See? Frustrating--twice!) It was always laziness trying to thwart my attempts to produce the best manuscript I'm capable of writing.
(BTW... That sentence WAS "It was always laziness trying to thwart my attempts to push myself to put out the best possible manuscript I could write." See what I mean about editing?)

Editing is taking your draft and refining it, streamlining it, embellishing it, and building on it to create a finished manuscript. It's taking the ideas and concepts from your draft and basically starting from scratch. Does that sound daunting? It is. Does it sound miserable? I'd be lying if I said there weren't times I nearly cried. Do you have to force yourself to do it every. single. day? You bet.

It's not fun. It's work. It's hard work. You finish writing your piece and say, "It's perfect! It's wonderful! It's complete!" and then you want it to be done. You've told your story. But did you tell it WELL? Did you do it justice?

(Before you answer that, you should note that I firmly believed I had done my story justice until I started on the editing path.)

There's this thing that happens to your brain when you're editing. Suddenly you're not just reading a story for enjoyment. You're reading it objectively--looking at it for flaws. Did what the character say make sense? Is there consistency within the story? Did you use correct grammar? Will your reader understand what you were saying?

It's almost a negative way of looking at your writing--and in a way it's a little rough on the ego. You thought your piece was SO GOOD, and suddenly you realize, "I should have said this better..." and, "What was I thinking here?"

What I'm saying isn't anything new. Any book on writing will tell you these things.

There are times where you absolutely want to give up and throw in the towel and say, "No more. No more. I will not do this anymore." But it gets strangely addictive, refining and revising your work. Suddenly you find yourself wondering, "How else can I phrase this? I bet there's a better word for this..." And next thing you know half an hour has gone by on thesaurus.com.

Maybe some day I'll open up some of my original drafts. (I just finished what I've affectionately titled THE BIG EDIT, aka version 7 of book two.) Then you'll be able to see a side-by-side comparison of where it started, and where it ended. I think you'll be astonished at how much it changed.

(It should be noted here that the content also SIGNIFICANTLY changed from the original book two to the current version. That's a completely different topic and a post that will have to wait for another day.)

Because, for now, the editing must continue...


Janine said...

Awesome description of the toil of editing :-)

I try and try to turn off the editor for the first draft, but it's SOOO hard. One thing that does help is using the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. I know it will catch the problems when I get to editing, so it's easier to let it go on the first draft.

Good luck with the editing...