Wednesday, November 03, 2010

On Editing

While I'm trimming ivy and brainstorming ideas for my next novel (working titled: Jesse), and reading an eye-crossing (but interesting) research book about the early history of western North Carolina/eastern Tennessee, I'm keeping thoughts of editing the first draft of The Quiet in the Land stewing on the back burner.

I'll start a macro edit in a week or so; that's an edit where plot and story and character arc issues are addressed. This is not my strong suit, so prayers on the subject ascend from my house every morning these days. Toward the goal of making this edit as successful and productive as possible, aside from praying and gathering my writing craft books on the subject* ready for quick reference and refreshing, I've also signed up for the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) November Novel Editing email loop, in which author Camy Tang will be presenting editing tips. Via email, participants can ask questions, offer advice, or discuss various editing related issues. If this sounds like something you could use right now, it's not too late to sign up. It started November 1st, but you need to be a member of ACFW to participate. If this month doesn't work for you, there'll be other Novel Editing loops throughout the year.

More thoughts on editing. Several weeks ago over at one of my favorite places to hang out, The Books & Writers Community, author Beth Shope posted a reply in a discussion on editing. Her advice on how to look at the sometimes daunting process is so full of inspiration, insight, and encouragement, I got her permission to reprint it here (thanks, Beth!)

Don't call it editing. Don't even think of it as editing. Call it writing. Call it creation. Because that's really what it is. The initial sentence, scene, draft you put down on the page represent only the first step. What you do with the words once they're there is not mere "editing"; it's the bulk of the creative process. 

Think of it as sculpting. You've got this ugly block of marble sitting there, roughed out into a vague shape you fondly think of as "story." The critic is telling you it's hopeless, that Michelangelo never produced anything that looked like that. Which is, of course, a laughable lie, because even Michelangelo had to start with the raw material and besides, the misshapen stone is not finished. It's very important to recognize that. You're only just getting started. You stomp on the critic like the cockroach she is, and proceed to carve and shape that marble into a thing of unique beauty. What emerges from the stone may even surprise you.

Editing and revision are where the real art happen. The sentence that you write only once and never revise because it came out right the first time is serendipity. A gift. It represents one the those moments when you were deeply connected to your subconscious and to the story. But either way, it's an exception and a rarity. 

So when you're looking at a first draft and the critic is telling you it sucks, you should be rubbing your hands together and chortling madly with anticipation, because the critic is an idiot who doesn't know the first thing about writing, and you're about to prove that. And the more often you prove the critic wrong, the less power she'll have over you.


*Books I'll be referring to include Self Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Brown and Dave King, The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass, and Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell


  1. Love Beth's take on editing! Beautifully said and so true! Love the word serendipity. Writing really is work in the long run but our love affair with our characters makes it less so... Thanks, Lori, for another wonderful, thought-provoking post.

  2. Laura, so good to have you back on line. Missed you during the retreat!

    Speaking of love affair, I'm in the falling in love stage with my new characters. It will be a bit of jar to pull away from them and go back to Willa and Neil and Joseph... but that will quickly pass as I get absorbed back into their world, and, hopefully, uncover some depths and layers and surprises lurking just under the surface of my first draft.

  3. What a fantastic illustration of the editing! Now that's art!

    I have characters giving me a tug of war right now, too. A story written a few years ago that I wish to revise and one that I started about a month ago. Of course, the characters that I so fondly wrote about in my completed novel are making me feel like I'm betraying them. Its so hard not to think of them when I was so absorbed in their every moment!!

  4. Carla, I know, it's always the same for me. I can't imagine ever loving another set of characters like I do whatever ones I'm writing about now. Then new ones come knocking, and I open the door, feeling a bit guilty at first, then before you know it I'm falling in love with them too. Doesn't mean I love the former ones any less though. All I have to do is start reading their story again to remember that "first love." My heart hasn't run out of room yet. :)