The Nth Circle of Editing Hell

Ok, for a start it’s not really possible to edit a manuscript an infinite ‘n’ number of times. Sooner or later you have to let the Ugly Baby out into the world. As the old saying goes, “art is never completed, only abandoned”.

I’ve just put the finishing touches to my Urban Fantasy Distant Shore. My last monumental push was inspired by the deadline for the Queensland Literary Awards, Unpublished Manuscript Award. The competition is always tough, especially for quirky genre works like mine, but it was worth it to support the QLA and to give myself that last bit of motivation to get the thing up to scratch.

Right now I’m drained. I’ve really put everything into doing the final redrafts on this one. Every damn trick I know is in this baby. Not only that, I’ve pushed myself up that sticky slope of manuscript improvement further than ever before.

The problem is, it’s not enough to just have a good manuscript. It’s got to be best you can do and then some.

For me, this meant getting that extra – uncomfortable – brutally honest feedback. Then working to clarify and streamline the prose. Working on word choice – trying to get that perfect verb. As well as all the usual stuff, like eliminating passive voice, using physical responses and sensations in the character to make the experience more direct. Regulating and mixing up sentence length. Over 96,000 words, that’s a lot of work.

Then after all that, I read the work out loud to myself to check the flow and to eliminate those last errors. You can believe I lost my voice over those two days!

What do you focus on when you enter the Nth circle of editing Hell?

Cross-posted at chrismcmahons blog.

9 comments

  1. Pacing and foundation. It’s what I’m most neurotic about, and it’s what I’ve been fretting about since the beginning, but it is what I am still checking at the end. Every time I go through a scene I fix the language and add or delete reaction and background. If I can turn page after page without lifting the pen, I’m looking for whether I built the darn thing properly. I try to read it as if I were new to the work and seeing if it makes sense, if the world building contradicts itself (whereupon I just make up a law to explain the discrepancy) and whether the characters have reason to be in the emotional state they are in.
    Sarah Hoyt recommended Dwight Swain, and his books on writing are tremendous. I’m about to get back to my next novel, and I’ll be using his structures and rules to check myself.
    I should read things out loud.

    1. It’s good to look at things from different angles. With writing there are so many things to focus on. It does get hard to see the work from a fresh/objective perspective. About the only way I can do this is shelve the work and come back to it a few months later. Apart from that I really need objective input – particularly where clarity is concerned. I know the world so well, it’s easy for me to get lost:)

  2. Congratulations? For reaching the 9th circle?

    Do you have software that will easily turn your manuscript into an ebook? I’ve read that editing on a different medium helps spot things you wouldn’t otherwise notice. I have yet to master the Scrivener process that is supposed to do this, but I bought Scrivener with that intention.

    If you have a VERY good friend – or a cooperative spouse – maybe having someone ELSE read it to you (text-to-speech is another option). Even if they did only the parts you’re iffy about?

    How do you avoid getting sick of your own work after this minute an examination?

    1. Hi, ABE. I never really get sick of my own work, but I really do get fatigued. I also start to lose my sense that I really am improving the work. Nothing to do but push on though! Good luck with Scrivener. I am pretty basic with software – just Word.

  3. Basic grammar. Things like . . . punctuation!?!, excessive commas, subject-verb agreement, and eradicating unnecessary (but really important, or perhaps not, but still diverting, more or less, and entertaining) subordinate clauses. The Nth+1 level of Hell is proofreading footnotes for grammar (such as it is) and for internal constancy between chapters and sections.

    1. I get pretty lost with grammar and punctuation sometimes. Mostly because I’m instinctive with that stuff.

      I like the phrase you coined ‘ the Nth +1 level of ‘ I don’t have footnotes, so I guess I’m spared that:)

  4. I don’t edit as much as I ought.

    I cannot do “the perfect verb” level of polish.

    At some point, my mind just blanks, and refuses to even read, let alone read critically. At that point, I either put it away for a couple of months, or e-publish. Which, mostly depends on what the beta readers have said.

  5. Fair enough. As much as writing is recognised as a solitary occupation, really it is a team effort. At some point we need to let go and trust the judgement of editors & reader who can cover the gaps we have.

    1. And be horrified by the result, years later! I’m currently cleaning up a manuscript for POD. It’s been e-pubbed for almost two years. I’ve updated it for typos twice . . . and the proof is _still_ bleeding red ink.

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