I’ve edited before, don’t get me wrong. Academic papers have been put through the ringer, looking at the first draft and the final draft of my thesis makes that superbly clear. And I’ve helped provide editing advice for friends on various projects.
But really sitting down and editing my fiction… that has been something I’ve always let slide. Happy to just do a little work here and there, tweaking a few sentences. Occasionally I’d rewrite a section or two, but often I would just let it go working only on the projects I wanted to work on, and putting others aside when a new idea moves me.
But, this time, I’m editing with the clear idea of actually sharing it. And not just “maybe someday,” or “perhaps with a friend or two,” but “Every Tuesday and Thursday starting June 3rd” and “on a blog that anyone can read.” And, after I reassure myself that it’s a risk worth taking (and, really, why not?), I get hit with the fact that, although I am going to be presenting it as a Work-In-Progress, and asking for feedback and editing input from readers (something I’m excited about… if I’m going to be doing this in an out-of-the-box format, I might as well take it even further), I still want to be presenting good work.
And so, I edit. I have re-read through the segments, switching words and lines, adding scenes, deleting scenes, and completely rewriting some pieces. Once I had an outline of the first large segment of the story (it was “Part One” back when I was working in Book format) there were some scenes that needed serious reworking — they were no longer relevant, made no sense, or referred to events that hadn’t actually occurred yet.
And then I sent it out to people. Two friends, whose writing I respect (and who I know would be able to be critical but also kind) and who were willing to give it a read. One was unable to get through the segments yet due to life (and her own awesome writing! A very good reason!) But the other provided me with good feedback and caused me to step back and look at what I had written — realize those things that I wasn’t aware I was doing. He pointed out the feeling he got from certain segments, and gave me some things to think about, not only in the writing I was revising, but in further segments that I edit and write.
And it is good… and it is not nearly as painful as I keep hearing advertised. I know that the work I am putting out is stronger for it, and that the work I produce later will be stronger as well.
But that doesn’t mean it was easy, don’t get me wrong. Nor am I under any delusion that it’s anywhere near done. But I’m willing to approach it as a new adventure.
I am currently working on a scene that I thought would be an easy edit. But it is something of a perfect example of the ways editing can help get deeper into the story. I had this scene, I’d written it the way I thought it was supposed to happen. Then I realized that an important action in my scene might not, actually, be something that would happen. A very brief research trip through the internet showed me that, indeed, my hunch was correct. And I was stuck, suddenly, with a scene that I couldn’t really use.
It was a scene that I needed because of the ultimate function of the scene, what it establishes and symbolizes, but that I couldn’t use the actual actions I had originally intended. Clearly, not just sentence restructuring and typo-correction for this one. And so I reached out to people who could help me find a way to use the pieces I had in the scene, to accomplish the goals I needed the scene to accomplish, and still be reasonable and realistic. And I think I’ve found one, which actually provides more depth, works even better, and ended up giving me the opportunity to divide it into two segments, and give the action an even deeper meaning.
And if I hadn’t been willing to look at it critically, to go back with an eye to how it really worked, and how the scene really felt, I would not have made those discoveries. An adventure, and a chance to do more writing in the midst of editing.
Because editing is another piece of writing. Just as that intensive daydreaming that many writers engage in is a part of the writing process, so too is the fine-tooth-comb reading that is required for editing. It is important to not fall into the idea that editing is simply looking over for typos, grammatical errors, continuity issues, and awkward sentence structure. It is important to do that kind of copy-editing, certainly, but editing can (and should) be so much more than that. It can be an opportunity to look at the story through different eyes, to think about each segment within the context of a larger picture, and to give each moment of the story some careful attention.
And I would highly recommend that everyone find at least one person to share their writing with. To have serve as a first reader. It was strange to realize how much more challenging it was to send my writing (and await response) from my readers than the idea of posting something up to the semi-anonymous world of the internet. The one who was able to get back to me is someone who has known me for a long time, and sometimes seems to know me better than I know myself. I trust him, and have trusted him, and have certainly made a fool of myself around him more times than I can count. And it certainly isn’t the first of my writing that he has read — we even write together from time to time. And yet, sending my writing to him was still nerve-wracking.
And the feedback he provided, a paragraph summary of each of my segments, followed by conversation, gave me some invaluable insight. And, perhaps because he isn’t the “target audience” of the story, the feedback really helped me to recognize some of the things I am doing, the tones I am taking, the way that the story is playing out, that I was not totally conscious of before.
I am, honestly, excited to be re-approaching the story with this new insight, and knowing that I have someone willing to continue to aid me in finding this different perspective on the story.
Also, it doesn’t hurt to have it pointed out when typing errors rear their head and I have a person turning to the crows rather than the crowd, or woman instead of women, or thought instead of throat… entertaining as some of them may be within the context.
As with many things in life, how you approach and think about editing matters. I find that editing is easier if you think of it as part of the process, another step in the journey. I’m not fond of phrases such as “kill your darlings” because it creates such a negative connotation to the process. Nothing needs to be “killed” in the editing process… perhaps gently cut away, or put aside for another time and place. I have had stories with pages of “out-takes,” sections I adore but just no longer fit the flow of the story. Nothing killed, simply put aside in a different place, where I can still enjoy them.
And I also find that it is easier with a friend. I am so glad to have a friend who will help me in the process, and who contribute his own thoughts to the work (I have some absolutely stellar “out-takes” for this, and other stories of mind in the past). Because an infusion of new thought, even if it is a somewhat silly aside, can re-energize, and open up the approach to a story that the author is, by the nature of writing it (and living and breathing it in the process, sometimes) very close to.
And, apparently, that’s how I edit. Piece by piece, tearing it apart and putting it back together, moving scenes until it feels right, and asking for input from others, to confirm (or force me to re-evaluate) my inclinations within the work.
It will be interesting to see how this approach evolves and changes as I go along, but I will say, I wish I had started being willing to do it earlier. To figure out how to cull out of feedback what is actually useful and helpful. Because that is an important skill within itself.