thoughts on editing, volume 1

Volume is a misnomer. This probably won’t be very long.

I’ve started editing my manuscript, and it is difficult. It’s not because I’m unwilling to be ruthless, because I am a slash-and-burn-no-idea-or-word-or-chapter-too-precious type of editor. I’m not damaging my baby or anything. The task is so daunting, though, that I’m tying myself up in knots over it. I didn’t realize just how crappy the thing was while I was writing it. I’m a 7 on the enneagram, which means that novelty is a huge motivator for me, and there is no novelty in the editing process. I wrote all this already and now I have to go back over it, and refine it, and can I not just start writing a new book now?

But I have a couple of observations about the process so far. There’s a nifty little feature in Scrivener, the writing program I use, that lists all the words you’ve used by frequency, so you can go through the list and find the overused words like really and actually, then delete them almost every time you come across them. I really use really too much.

The other one was first made clear to me via the handy list, but also cropped up in the process of rereading: I fell victim to the sloppy writing habit of giving my protagonist ESP. “She had a vague sense of foreboding that something really bad was going to happen.” “She sensed that he was on her side, despite his really scary appearance.” “It seemed as though he was trying to communicate something.” NO. Gross. The word in my list that clued me in was “seemed.” Like really and actually, there aren’t a lot of places where something seems a certain way but it could in fact be written that it IS a certain way, or at the very least, someone talked about it that way, or thought about it. It’s a part of the showing-vs-telling thing that Creative Writing 101 students are beaten over the head with and have very little idea how to put into practice. My practical advice, from having edited four chapters of my most terrible novel to date, is to not worry about it at first and write an opening paragraph/chapter/section (depending on the overall length of the thing you’re writing) and then go back, salvage the one sentence that basically sums it all up, and nuke the rest. Your writing will not suffer. The parts that go on and on about her tortured experience with peers in high school that lead her to believe she was SPESHUL and DIFFERENT and MADE FOR ANOTHER WORLD (ahem, self) don’t advance the plot, are not interesting to read, and can be gleaned from the one sentence and the supporting dialogue and action that follows.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe writing a novel or two is going to lead me to become an editor or agent or publisher.

That’s the bulk of my observations on the editing process, four days into it. Stay tuned for more! Maybe blogging about it will help me stay motivated. I can only hope.