Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Insecure Writers: And Now We Edit


NOTE: I'm joining a new group: The Insecure Writers. It's an online group, meaning that no one ever really meets face-to-face, which is so perfectly appropriate for writers (to make a grand over-generalization about us, of course) that I had to join. We 'meet' the first Wednesday of every month, so there will be a nice neurotic post about writing - so different from my other posts, I know - once a month.

I'm going to make an attempt to be brief today. Not one of my strengths, but I'm this close (holds up thumb and forefinger with itty bitty space in between) to finishing the first-pass edit of Cloudland, and I am jonesing to get back to it. Like, leg-shaking hand-tremors gimme-my-fix-NOW jonesing.

And oh yes, I do mean first-pass (or really third-pass), because there's a whole long chain of editing that happens to a novel after a first draft is finished:

  1. The writer reads the first draft and alternates between perfect joy and horrified disbelief. She tries to remove the bits that cause the disbelief and does great celebratory dances around the awesome bits.
  2. Second draft. The writer enlists one or two very kind, wise close friends with some expertise in writing/reading/editing to read the draft and point out the places where the writer has gone a wee bit overboard, which should really be cut before anyone else is allowed to read it.
  3. Third draft. The writer takes a few deep breaths and engages the help of a professional editor. With the help of this editor, she murders paragraphs and slashes and burns all of the "long's" and "slow's" and other problematic and generally over-written sections.
  4. Fourth draft. The writer and the editor go through the novel again (with a lighter touch, one would hope) to make sure that now that it's nice and lean, it all still flows and makes sense and that there's story continuity and all of that important stuff. 
  5. Fifth (or more) draft. The writer finds an agent (Snap. Just like that! Soooo easy!) That agent likely has one or two or seventy ideas for improving the manuscript.
  6. Many more drafts. The agent finds a publisher (also super-duper quick and easy, of course) and the publisher has a just a few tiny little suggestions before agreeing to take a major risk and spend money on this unknown author and her precious manuscript. Just a couple of very small edits. 

Of course, this is my version of the editing process. Some writers probably have very different processes (and if any writers are reading this and do have better processes, please for the love of God share them with me. Kay, thanks.)

All of this, of course, can lead to just the teeniest tiniest sense of insecurity. Y'know, no biggie. Just something along the lines of "OH DEAR GOD WILL ANYTHING BE LEFT OF MY BELOVED MANUSCRIPT WHEN EVERYONE IS DONE KILLING IT???"

Which is ridiculous and dramatic and mildly insane, and also probably entirely normal for anyone who has ever had anything edited. Emails, reports, novels, scripts, letters, grocery lists, whatever. There's always this moment where you think, "Wait, why are you getting rid of that? That was a genius idea! Don't we need seventy-five different adjectives/kinds of spinach/statistics/ways to say "dear"/etc?"

Anyway. I'm almost there on step #3 (does this feel like a 12-step program to anyone else??) Before I sign off for today, I'll share one more tidbit from the annals of editing:

This one is one of the worst offenses of my bad habit #4, pairing actions and body parts. I actually, with no sense of humor or irony at all, wrote the following sentence: "Then she [Sara] has no choice but to squeeze his hand, and nod her own head." 

Yes, folks, that's right, I am now pointing out that my characters only nod their own heads, not anyone else's! Because if I didn't - CHAOS!! WHOSE HEAD IS SARA NODDING?? WHAT ON EARTH IS HAPPENING IN THIS NOVEL??

Needless to say, the image this conjures is priceless: Sara putting her hand on her head, and pushing it up and down in an unmistakable nod.

Too bad I'm not writing farce, or satire, because that's a gem, there.

26 comments:

  1. Hello Liz. I am co-hosting this month's ISWG and want to welcome you to the group. You have joined with an absolutely perfect and delightful post. And so hits home for me. THe sentence you shared at the end cracked me up. I have so many things like that in my first drafts. Good luck to you and so nice "meeting" you.

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    1. Thank you!! It's good to be here - and great to "meet" you too :)

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  2. Welcome to IWSG!

    You are hilarious! I have a tendancy to over-describe every action and expression so my characters spend a lot of time laughing, grimacing and raising their eyebrows. In real life, they'd be extremely twitchy and off-putting people.

    I love your list and also "ridiculous and dramatic and mildly insane" should really be a blog name don't you think? It describes almost every writer I know.

    Good luck!

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    1. Oh and PS, I'd love to follow your blog, but you don't have a Google+ thingy for me to add myself to :(

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    2. Ha! Yes! I should rename the blog ;)

      Thanks for the encouragement - and the sympathy!!

      I THINK I added a Google+ thingy... left-hand side? Does it work? And can you tell I don't really get Google+??

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    3. I don't really get it either, but I know that I get updates telling me when you post again. That's all I need to know really.

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  3. Oh, man... I don't even send to first readers until it hits about draft #4... and then I try to do 2 rounds with readers... I know people who do the process a lot faster, but my first drafts seem to not have plot holes, but pits...

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    1. Hmm, maybe that's a smarter way of doing it. My way involves lots of exposure to ridicule, doesn't it?

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  4. I tried something different this time and have been sending pages off during the process of writing. Every time I get a hundred pages written I send it off to my critique buddies. It's been interesting to get feedback as I go this time. I think it's helping me to avoid plot problems down the line and to know how my main character is being received. But, wow, I can imagine how overwhelming an editorial letter from an agent or publisher might be.

    And, yes, it is SO important to note whose head is nodding. Gah, I do that stuff all the time. I am often guilty of overwriting.

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    1. I like that idea, actually. I think I'm going to give it a try. Thank you!

      *Nods own head*

      ;)

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  5. Haha; I love the crazy things we notice in edits. I'm sure they made sense in the 1st draft... didn't they?!

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    1. Apparently they did... the embarrassing parts are when you DON'T notice them! ;)

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. You're editing process made me think "I'm doing it wrong!" But we all have our own ways of writing, and editing.

    I think I'd like to read a novel where the main character goes around nodding other people's heads.

    Visiting from IWSG.

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    1. That's perfect, because anytime I read about anyone else's process, I think, "I'm doing it wrong!" So yes, you're right - we all have our own ways.

      I'd like to read that novel, too :)

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  7. Welcome to the group. Your post made me giggle. I totally get it. I swear I get so caught up in editing it's ridiculous. Give me anyone else's MS and I can edit like a champ. But mine? Forget about it LOL.

    Meredith
    Meredith’s Musings

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    1. Oh my Lord, yes. Everyone else's writing is easy, right?

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  8. I'm going to write my own comment! :) I have caught myself doing the same, so no worries.

    Wonderful post, Liz, and welcome to the group. Your process is similar to mine...nothing earth-shaking or wind-breaking to add.

    I like the relaxed way you write and will stop by as regularly as I can.

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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    1. Hey, thanks! One of the best things about joining IWSG so far is 'meeting' so many great writers, and finding so many great blogs - yours included :)

      Please do stop by!

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  9. I literally LOL'ed at the nodded her own head thing. Perfect example of overwriting. I like your #2 where your crit partners tell you the part to cut before anyone else sees it. I've had a few choice paragraphs about gutting a deer in detail and such that CPs saved me from showing to strangers. Welcome to IWSG. Glad to meet you.

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    1. Oh boy. Thank goodness for critique-ers; they save us from ourselves.

      I'll nod my own head here, and agree - I'm glad to meet you, too!

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  10. Yup, I'm nodding my own head in agreement. haha. Nice one. I'm visiting from the Insecure Writer's Support Group! Great looking blog!

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  11. LOL
    I read early works of mine and cringe. We all do.

    Your process sounds good, well thought out. And it changes, you know? As my writing skills have improved, my editing process has evolved. I don't make as many of those mistakes in the first place and catch most of the rest on my own.

    I used to need more critique partners, so I could compare comments and know how to assign weight. Now I'm more sure of myself and know better which marks I can ignore. I still believe there is wisdom in many counselors, but I'm more choosey about who those are.

    Good luck with you WIP. It's great to be that excited about something, isn't it?

    Welcome to the group! :)
    August co-host and IWSG #110

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    1. That's encouraging to hear - thank you! I do put a lot of thought (read: way too much thought) into my processes, but half the time I'm convinced they're just overly neurotic.

      Amen to being choosy with counselors. I learned that lesson the hard way, too.

      Thanks for the welcome, and for hosting!

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  12. Don't worry, a lot of you will be left!
    I do probably six edits before it goes to my test readers. Several edits more and then it goes to my critique partners. Two to three more rounds, and I send to my publisher, who puts me through another two to three rounds. Plus a final round of edits on the review copy. And all that after I've spent months on a detailed outline before writing the first word.
    That may not sound encouraging, but it works.
    Welcome to the IWSG!

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    1. WOW... Ok, that's a lot of rounds. It's frightening, but also encouraging that there's still something of you left after the 6,785,341st edit. Thanks for the welcome!

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