The Madness of Editing

I’ve reached that point in the construction of a novel where beta readers have kindly pored over my words, let me know what is wrong with my baby (nothing fatal, thank goodness) and now I have to pick out parts of the design and rework it. I tend to create metaphors for stories that akin them to tapestries, or needlework. It’s not like stone-carving, you can fix a mistake once it is made. Mind you, if you pick at one thereafter you might suddenly find yourself holding a whole lot of where-did-this-come-from and a plotline unravels before your eyes.

This book is a new experience for me. I started it as I always do, with a clear burst of story, a panoply of images in my head, i wrote feverishly… And that is where it went sideways. It took me two years to finish it. As an extreme pantser, keeping the story alive in my head that long was difficult. For one thing, when I first wrote what was then called Puppies in Space, I didn’t have any idea that I’d later write Jade Star, which turned out to not only be in the same universe, but a direct prequel (by a century, but a central character)  to the story in the re-titled Tanager’s Fledglings. Now, I am having to go over the beginning, which was intended to be a short story, and foreshadow the weight of the tale to come, the appearance (Midway through the book) of a very strong character, but not tie it so closely to Jade Star that TF won’t stand alone.

Editing is madness, I tell you. And it isn’t helped much by my starting work this week, slowing the editing to mere pages a day, and some of that conscious time spent re-reading what I did yesterday to get back into the story. It’s not that this job is tough, it’s demanding mentally and physically and I’m loving it, it’s just what I needed. It’s just… I’m a writer. I’ve spent the last few years either sitting in classes, or on my tuchis in front of a keyboard. My step-tracking app is telling me I’m doing between 4-6 miles a day. And on top of that, I’m learning new stuff daily, and this is Science (I really love this job, have I said that yet?) So if I screw it up, bad things will happen. So I’m focused on absorbing absolutely everything at once. That does not leave much room in the noggin for words.

Words are important when editing. I’m not the kind of writer who feels a need to massage her words into something elegant and refined. My characters aren’t that fancy and will give me funny looks. But I do feel the need to find the right word for the situation. Harder to do when you’re fog-brained.

On the other hand, editing is a process that requires you to read your own work, something I quite frankly am terrible at. I feel all self-concious and awkward. Like the first day at work when you are mostly trying to stay out of people’s way and not break something. Editing runs the risk of breaking the story. Keeping a light touch is just as important as finding all the necessary shadows to cast a faint outline of what is coming for your hero. Much of the story magic is made in the unconscious mind, and you have to trust that too.

I’ll keep this short today, because I’m rambling on. I’ll be at work today, but will check in when I get a lunch break, and again in the evening to answer comments. Play nice!

 

 

15 Comments

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15 responses to “The Madness of Editing

  1. Christopher M. Chupik

    Puppies in Space?

    Sad ones?

    • Sanford Begley

      Think more Basset hounds flying through zero g by adjusting their flaps and you’ll get a better taste of the direction of the original short

      • *blink, blink* That sounds fantastic!

      • I’d always wondered how those ears evolved. Now it is explained – must be aliens that have lived in micro-gravity for far too long…

        Come to think of it, the rest of the body is pretty obviously optimized for not taking up too much room in your ship for wasted space corridors.

  2. That at least normalizes my progress with the editing on my second novel, which feels like it’s dragging me down into the pit of despair. Good to know it’s not just me.

  3. Christopher M. Chupik

    I once pared down a story so much that I lost a plot-point and had to put it back in again. So always be careful not to edit out the plot.

  4. In High School I’d routinely hand in my rough copy instead of my good copy and not always because I hadn’t done a good copy. Mostly because the rough copy was better. In the process of editing, tightening, and cleaning up the rough copy I’d take all of the spark and many of the ideas out of the essay. If I handed the good copy in I’d be told it didn’t have my usual flair and I’d get around sixty percent. And if I handed in the rough copy I’d get praised for its flair, presentation, and strong argumentation but lose marks for handing in a rough copy and get around sixty percent.

    Learning how to edit was not something that the teachers taught where I went to school so I had to learn that later. Now, I’m working on a novel where I just pantsed the carp out of it and I know that when I finish it there’s going to be the most extensive editing process I’ve ever had.

    Like, there’s stuff revealed to characters at the start that is also revealed to those same characters later because I decided while pantsing that it was better in the middle then at the front. I didn’t want to slow the momentum and go back and fix it so when editing I’ll have to go through all of that kind of stuff, map out the story, make sure all the reveals are in the strongest places, add in chapters, take out jokes that go on too long, and honestly I’m kind of looking forward to it.

    Writing to outline made the editing process simpler by identifying what fit in the outline and what didn’t, but I have a feeling that writing without outline will keep the story more unpredictable in a good way. Also of more interest to me as an editor as it involves more thinking and less working by rote. Or so I tell myself.

    I’m probably wrong, I often am.

    Steve

    • SheSellsSeashells

      I made absurd amounts of money in high school (around the advent of affordable PCs but before everybody had one) by typing papers with different rates. The teachers thought I charged a dollar per page for typing; the students thought I charged two dollars per page for typing and correction; the *smart* students were aware that I charged three dollars per page for typing, correction, and reinserting just enough errors that the teachers didn’t know I’d fixed it.

  5. My brain goes on strike. Once the Beta readers input is in-put, I might manage one last pass before the brain just quits.

    • My brain is also on strike, but I think it’s the new job. I hope.

      • Dorothy Grant

        I’ll bet it is. Every new job I’ve had has temporarily killed my creativity. (And even editing needs creativity.) I personally chalk it up to: so much of my brain is engaged in learning and memorization / categorization / assigning priorities / forming routines, that it’s not got a lot of available free “ruminate on prior information, recast under incoming data, and synthesize from that.”

        As soon as I have the job down pat, it always comes back. In fact, I know I am getting the job down when it starts coming back, over and above the less-frantic learning pace and increased competence.

  6. Don’t need to tell you, but you can do it and you will do it. We all know your gumption. 😉

  7. Final pass editing is probably the worst. I have to be ridiculously careful because at this point I’ve gone over the thing so many times…

    and am incredibly aggravated when I find straight quotes still.