Category Archives: editing
Writers are always asking themselves and each other, repeatedly, “when do you know you’re done?” with the draft, the edits, the book! It’s a hard question to answer. Even those far greater than I seem to have struggled with this question – why even Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
I usually make the call when the thought of reading through my current WIP makes me green about the gills. If I’m that tired of it, it’s time to set it free! Hmm, something about that doesn’t quite sound right, but it’s in the ballpark.
Anyway, I was reviewing my galley for ACES DOWN and while I had a definite deadline to turn it around, I was pushing it to get another run through, just in case. So, when I tripped UP the stairs at my office while carrying my galley and a full cup of morning nirvana, i.e. coffee, this is what happened.
Yep, just call me Grace! After the massive clean up, fortunately we did not have to call in professional assistance, I was draping the coffee-soaked pages all over an empty office and I realized it was a sign. Time to set it free.
Writers, crafters, artists, poets, et al – when do you know that it’s time to let go?
THEY SAY YOU ARE STUBBORN; YOU CALL IT PERSISTENCE.
SNARKY RESPONSE: And sometimes it’s just called not knowing any better.
Despite the snark, I love this fortune. Anyone who has taken the bit in their mouth and pursued something to the end despite the naysayers has to be right there with me.
For folks who stick to their guns regarding dreams and goals, stubborn is the mortar that holds your efforts together. Anyone who’s pulled out a hundred rows of knitting to correct one dropped stitch, anyone who has hauled themselves out of bed at the crack of dawn to put in a couple of miles, anyone who has corrected that bit of paint, clay, or pastel until they captured their subject knows that it’s really stubbornness that pushes them through.
For writers, this is what keeps us sending out that novel, essay, or poem over and over until it finds a home. Even if, in the end, that home is in something you produce on your own. You wanted to get those words into print and by George, you were going to see it happen.
If it was easy, everyone who wrote would be published. Mini-Snark:No, wait! Thanks to some online publishing services, everyone CAN, but there is the matter of quality versus quantity.
The key, for me, is to have made the effort to produce the best possible writing you can, polish it until it gleams, and then put it out there. I see no reason why you can’t sidestep the publisher route and publish on your own, just make sure that it’s worthy of your time and effort as well as the time and effort, not to mention the cash, of your reader.
Persistence is a nice word, a pleasant word, a ‘politically-correct/motivational speaker’ word, but for true – ‘stick-to-it’ness (how would you write that phrase?) – I’m putting my money on Stubborn.
What have you been Stubborn about lately?
ALL YOUR HARD WORK WILL SOON BE PAID OFF
SNARKY RESPONSE: Yeah, and the check is in the mail, right?
Talk about hard work!
Anyone who says writing isn’t hard, hasn’t been doing it right. At least that’s what I’ve been told and, frankly, that’s also been my experience.
Oh sure the first draft is a breeze! Caught up in the moment. Chasing that brilliant story idea down the pathways of your imagination…and over the cliff.
That’s the moment when you begin to realize that you have to worry about characterization, plot development, voice, theme, and grammar. All the fine details of continuity – names, physical characteristics, verbal tics. Is the setting easy to visualize and the world-building both invisible and convincing? Does the dialogue flow easily through the mind or off the tongue? No one can ignore the rules without paying the cost.
You have to make a solid effort to provide your reader with the best story told in the best way that you know how. And that takes work. Time invested in choosing the words, the phrases, and the action. Time putting it down on paper and then reading it over and over as you fine-tune it. Then time re-reading it and revising it some more. Words in/words out/rinse/repeat.
And from my perspective, while it might get easier as you become more experienced, it never becomes automatic.
I’ve just pushed the SEND button on a submission to my editor. It’s a terrifying moment knowing that it’s gone out of my hands, and I’m not going to be there when it arrives to help clear up any mistakes or misunderstandings. Will that cold read by my editor be all I hope it will be?
I just know that there’s gonna be something I missed. Something I didn’t quite nail. Heck, on that final read through, after having read Aces Down until I was green around the gills, I still discovered some continuity issues, missing words, and unclear situations. I fixed all I could find and now I have to hope it was enough. Enough to help my editor fall in love with Norah and Tristan, and the rest of the gang at Aces Down.
Well, only time will tell. Fingers crossed.
DEVOTION IS WORTH THE EFFORT AT THIS TIME.
SNARKY RESPONSE: But we make no promises about tomorrow.
Actually, I feel that devotion is always worth the effort. Granted I may not always receive gratitude for my devotion, but if my intent were only to receive gratitude then it calls into question the validity of my devotion.
Now there are some noble pursuits that are with the sole expectation of recognition. I’m thinking specifically of competitive sports. In my mind, athletes and competitors are always cognisant of the ratio of effort to results, so I think they are outside the scope of my discussion.
Additionally, devotion to family and faith are excluded from the discussion, though my initial comment can be applied to those folks who expect others to reward them for their actions. As Dolly Parton’s character said in “Straight Talk”, those folks should “get down off the cross. Somebody needs the wood.”
No, seriously, today’s fortune cookie resonated with me and where I am right now with my writing. I’m well into my edits, to the point that I’m beginning to get a little green around the gills at the thought of reading through my current WIP One More Time. However, that one more time is crucial to getting the words right. In fact, I fully expect that even after I slog my way through this edit, I’ll have to push myself through another. It’s an effort, hell yeah, and I have been known to periodically whine about it, but it’s an effort that I know will improve my work.
A WIP is an evolving creature. First Draft to Finished Product may see characters, story arc, pivotal points, etc. shift is unexpected ways. Those changes will require adjustments to the story in large and small ways. I have to be prepared to backtrack, backfill, and maybe even back down on my story as I become more and more involved with it.
I’m determined to do this work, to make these adjustments, and then go through it all again because I’m devoted to the concept of putting my best work forward to anyone who plunks down the money and the time to read my writing. Or even if no one does, because it’s what I do.
I’m a writer and I write. Then I edit and edit and edit until it’s right. And there’s no skipping steps along the way. Therefore, my devotion to my writing is ALWAYS worth the effort.
A BRAVE MAN IS THE ONE THAT IS NOT AFRAID TO ADMIT HIS MISTAKE.
SNARKY RESPONSE: But a smart man won’t admit it out loud.
Mistakes. We hate to make ’em. We hate to have to correct ’em. But more importantly, we hate to be caught making one. Nothing will make a writer cringe more than hearing someone point out a mistake in your latest piece. Punctuation mistakes, grammar bumbles, plotting snafu’s, and characterization gaffs can make a writer want to crawl under that rock the reader obviously thinks you climbed out from underneath. (Not that everyone who points out an error to a writer thinks the writer is a total idiot. Just that the writer usually feels like one.) The point is not to have to discover and own up to them after you put those pages out there for public consumption, or submit for publication.
Mistakes happen. No matter how hard we try, writers make mistakes while putting words to paper. Few and far between are the writers who produce grammatically correct and perfectly punctuated text the first time onto the page. In the clutches of the creative process getting the stalwart hero through that horrific confrontation with the dastardly villain far outweighs pausing to ponder silly things like punctuation and grammar.
And that’s okay. For First Drafts. First Drafts are precisely that–the First of many before Publication. I won’t pretend to tell you how many drafts are the optimum number of drafts, because every writer is different, but I’d suggest you need a minimum of four.
When you’ve got that First Draft complete and in the file, that’s when you begin correcting the mistakes that slipped through the cracks with the clues left by your murderer.
Second Draft is for things like plotting, pacing, characterization. These are things that you’ll smack your head over but have fun correcting. Well, sometimes you want to shoot yourself because you discover that the crazy aunt in Chapter 1 not only changed her name by Chapter 4, but also her sex by Chapter 7, and his residence by Chapter 9. Or that great fight scene you labored over for hours just doesn’t work where it is in the story. In fact, and here’s a real kick-in-the-gut, it may not fit anywhere, at all. And then there are the plot knots where you realize that amazing Chapter 10 couldn’t have happened because you forgot to lay the groundwork for it in Chapter 3.
Drafts Three through Draft Number “If I have to read this again, I’m going to kill myself,” are for further fine-tuning. Carving out chapters that don’t work. Writing new ones that do. Killing off that character who’s getting in the way. Combining a couple of minor characters into one multi-purpose side-kick. Dumping or re-writing that First Chapter because it no longer fits with the ending. Paring away about a billion extra words, because, less is more, more or less.
The Last Draft (whatever it’s number) is the fine-tuning. When you’ve got the words right, you can then make sure they’re all polished with perfect grammar and punctuation. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be correcting grammar and punctuation as you go along. It’s important to maintain the quality of your writing at all times. However, why labor over punctuation and grammar on sections you may end up heaving into File 13? No, fix ’em when you see ’em. However, you should dedicate the last and final draft to making sure that you did dot all those i’s, cross all those t’s, and punctuated every sentence perfectly.
And let me let you in on a little secret. Even after all that. Even after you’ve edited and proofed until you’re cross-eyed, you need an outside set of eyes to read it over. You’ve gotten so close to your work that you probably won’t see some of the errors, but that Beta Reader will, and bless their hearts, that’s exactly why you have them.