The Editing

There hasn’t been a blog for a few weeks as I’ve been sick, but I’m all better now so let’s continue with something that all writers have to go through. Editing.

There are very few people who enjoy editing their books. Mostly because it means having to switch off the little voice inside your head that says, “No don’t delete that sentence, it’s so funny and clever, why do you hate me? No don’t do it, I… noooooooooo.”

But once you’ve melted your creativity into a large puddle of goo, you need to set about making your story better.

It's a bit like this, but less delicious.

At the moment, I’m preparing Crimes Against Magic to get published in April, and that means editing. Over and over again.

I’m very lucky in that I have a lot of excellent friends who took their time to go through the book with a fine-tooth comb and point out all of my failings. Any plot point which doesn’t make sense, or spelling which looked like it was written by an orang-utan. They’re an excellent group, and they offer some very good suggestions.

To be fair, the orang-utan probably has a better grasp on spelling than I do.

The problem with having a group of people reading your work is that you very quickly realise you can’t please everyone. One person won’t like a prologue, another won’t like a flashback or a fight scene or a whole character. You can’t make your work universally loved. It’s never going to happen. And that’s something you, as a writer, need to realise as quickly as possible. That’s why you should always write the book for you. Write something you want to read. Everyone else is a bonus.

So, once you’ve gotten passed the portions of the book that you don’t want to change, it’s down to the nitty-gritty. Unnecessary sentences, words and grammar that don’t need to be there or are just wrong. No one is going to have a perfect book first time, in fact I’ve been through Crimes Against Magic a number of times and I still pick up the occasional word that shouldn’t be there, or piece of incorrect formatting.

So, now the book is in a way that I’m happy with. But the edits don’t stop. Next I’m going to read it out loud, mostly because you can catch all kinds of problems with it by doing so, especially speech that doesn’t sound right. And when I’ve done that… well, hopefully it’ll be finished for good, although I’m sure I’ll want to check it again, just to make sure.

At some point I’ll have to stop though, otherwise I’m just editing for the sake of it and not actually doing anything productive.  Besides I’ve got book 2 I need to get finished and unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to write itself.

Posted on January 28, 2012, in Crimes Against Magic, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Aaaah… the joys of editing! I’m only doing a novella, so you have my sympathies.

    It’s good to see you know, up to a point, you have to trust your own instincts. I’ve read a few blog entries about writers who have tried to accommodate everyone and the resultant book, written by committee, has had all the original life and uniqueness sucked out of it. It sounds like yours will be vibrant and punchy after all this hard work. 🙂

    I hope your throat doesn’t get sore with all the reading aloud, and that you know when enough is enough.

    Best of luck Steve.

  2. Steve, I share your sentiments about editing. It certainly isn’t the fun, exciting, amusing part of writing. I have to wait for a ruthless day, and then get to work. Though some of those delighful cookies might help.
    I’m meeeeeeeeelllllllllllllltingggggggggggg…

    (Now what’s that rule about ellipses? Would I use three or four in that sentence? Dang it.)

    • Those cookies are great, aren’t they? I found the pic online.

      Editing takes a lot of effort and patience. It’s not something you can go into with the wrong mindset, you’ll just be running around in circles.

  3. You’re spot on when it comes to editing. All those precious words, which must be cast into the dreaded “deleted scenes” folder. So sad.

    Great post, Steve! Can I have a cookie now? 🙂

    • You can have a cookie! I didn’t make them though. Found the pic online from someone who is clearly more talented than I when it comes to baking!

      I can’t keep my deleted scenes folder. I want to start putting them back when I think of a place to use them. 🙂

  4. Editing… *chokes* *dies*

    If magic wands existed, *this* would be dealt with painlessly. But…

    Good luck, Steve!!!

  5. The hardest part is when you see that a scene you LOVE has to go. That delete button on my keyboard gets well used during the process but it’s not always an easy thing to do. I’m reminded of a phrase that I heard somewhere (I wish I could remember where) saying ‘Your book is never done until you editor says it’s done’. So true. Otherwise, I believe I could edit FOREVER.

  6. I actually do see editing as fun – from a sense of revisiting a scene and making it better. And often it’s only very minor tweaks here and there that can bring out the essence of a scene in the way you envisioned when you wrote it – yet still had a nagging sense that something wasn’t quite finished with it.

    The comment about not being able to please all readers is definitely on the mark. And it’s similarly important to have readers who don’t personalize their feedback (and some do). A good reader is valuable, as they need to both encourage and also give honest feedback, and yet still be willing to allow the author to make a final decision.

    Most often, a reader can verbalize doubts I already had about a scene or passage, and reinforces the need to fix or excise. More importantly, readers will simply tell you when something feels “off” – by showing you a perspective you hadn’t considered and that needs to be addressed. Then there are the “this would never happen” insights that help to get things in the right balance. All of those are extremely essential, and can be separated from other feedback that isn’t universal among readers and is formed mostly by personal tastes.

    Reading aloud is definitely a benefit (after a first or second revision when you’re fairly certain you’re down to refining) and helps catch flow and awkward phrasing, repetition, and other issues.

    I find it fun also because I can return to scenes and experience both the pleasure during writing them and a new pleasure in seeing how they read. And with the scenes that need a lot of work to get them to where they need to be, it brings a sense of accomplishment to whittle on a mostly formless piece of writing until it becomes something it wasn’t before.

    Anyway, I think you’ve written a very good post on this subject that’s hit several less-discussed highlights of the whole revision process (lack of consensus among readers and reading aloud, especially).

    Good luck!!

    • Thanks very much. I think a lot of people place what everyone else thinks as high on their list of things to ensure they achieve. At the end of the day, if you’re not happy with it, then you haven’t achieved anything except tearing your hair out trying to make everyone happy.

      The reading aloud was something a few people have said they do toward the end of their edits as a final way to catch something out. That’s the plan anyway.

  7. Best of luck with the next stage Steve. Editing is perhaps one of the hardest things to do but when its over, you’ll find that the tale is tighter and benefited from either some retro writing or a visit from the red marker.

  8. Very good blog post! Also, I love those cookies, they’re so awesome! 😀

    But back to the blog post… 🙂 I actually stumbled upon a couple of Anne Rice’s interview videos last night and she talked about editing in one of them. She said that yes, it’s great to get other people’s input on things like spelling mistakes or grammar issues, but for her sentence structure was paramount to the story so a writer should never feel afraid of saying “No, that stays as is!”. So yep, your beta readers might have mixed feelings about something but don’t feel like you have to pick one thought over the other, because sometimes leaving it as it is, is the best thing to do.

    Good luck with the editing!

    • Those cookies look superb! I haven’t made cookies in a long time, I should probably do that at some point.

      I agree, the writer has to be happy with what they’ve written. Otherwise what’s the point?

  9. really enjoyed your post Steve 🙂 I like editing but I do it too often at the beginning…a habit I must break. As a “newbie” I’ve quickly learned that not everyone can be made happy. Glad to have that one under my belt. And great idea about reading aloud! I also catch more mistakes when I’m reading a printed copy than on the screen.

    Good luck with your edits, hope they are as painless as possible! *love the orangutan picture by the way 😀

    • You should never edit as you go. I fall into that same problem of wanting to do it, but I force myself to move on. You have to, otherwise the book wil never get done. 🙂

      Orang-utan’s rock. 🙂

  10. Groan –editing–like a dirty word to me 😉
    It’s hard, so hard, to look objectively at your work and to take criticism…I applaud you, Steve…you’ve been working so hard on your ms and your goal is so close!

  11. I enjoyed the post Steve. I’m ‘forcing’ myself to edit right now. It’s as hard as you say it is, and then even harder to do…. Cutting all those lines or words you like, think are funny, thought were good, but do nothing to move your story or plot forward must go, and that’s damn hard to do. Kind of like letting one of your kids go out, then worrying the whole time they’re gone.
    Did I make the right decision?

    It’s never easy, and I feel for you. It’s a struggle knowing when to stop. And you’re right…you’ll always find something that doesn’t sound right, a word out of place, or something that could have been worded better. It’s an endless job.

    Chin up. You’ll get it done. 🙂

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