One of the first steps in my editing process is to upload my entire manuscript to AutoCrit, an automated online editing tool which is light-years beyond all the others I’ve investigated. Not only does it analyze my writing, it’s configurable to help me with my specific bugaboos. Over time it’s helped me reduce those.
Except that’s wrong. D’oh.
As Anne “The Writer’s Process” Janzer posted recently, work from the outside in. Read that at her blog (scroll down to The Cycles of Self-Revision for this specific point.) First, read the book as a book and see if it works, if at a high level, all the parts come together. Then tidy up the specifics.
I’m parking the book for a week and then I’ll read it like a book. Yeah, it should be a month, to let myself forget all the brilliant turns of phrase and unbelievable bits, but this book is nearly a thousand days old and I’m being impatient. It’s also pretty good just as it is, so I’m pushing.
Knowing how closely our emotional and physical health are tied it is no surprise to me that I came down with a vicious cold the week I pushed to finish Rafe Keyn, nor that it continues as I keep working.
My diminished mental capacity makes creativity difficult, but I can still read the printed manuscript and find obvious typos and make other notes as they occur to me.
Eating well, getting my rest and plenty of fluids. I wish those fluids included rye whiskey and a local craft brew, but our water is good and still my favorite drink.
Imagine, though, if you were dying of thirst (you are, you’re a writer) and the person holding the hose kept shutting it off so they could adjust something. Spurt of water. Shut it off. Adjust. Spurt of water. Shut it off. Adjust.
It’s a writer’s nature to assume that what pours from our fingertips will be the brilliant story in our heads. When we read a book, we see the polished outcome, not the deadly trudge it took to create it, and when it’s our turn we forget.
Instead of polished prose streaming from our minds, it’s more akin to the green soup steaming in the concrete waste canal in a springtime milking barn back home in Wisconsin. Not even usable as fertilizer.
At least, that’s what we think.
Truth is, it’s probably 80% excellent, and all we see is the 20% green soup.
The 20% is 80% easy to fix. That is, once we dig in (to the words, not the mucky green soup) we find that most of what’s less than stellar in that last fifth is easy to fix.
Before you start thinking about another kind of fifth, do the math: 80% + (80% of 20%) = 96% done.
Now you’re down to the 4% that’s excruciating.
That’s where writing happens: the choices you make, and the fervor and grit to slog through that 4%.
No, you never get to 100%. If you can cure another 80% you’ll be at 99.2% which is closer than any of us have a right to expect.
Fair warning: if you are committed to the spontaneous pantsing version of writing, please don’t read this. You won’t benefit, I won’t benefit. If you’re open to having assumptions challenged, read on. To the end. Don’t read the first 80% and quit or you won’t get the point.
What is a House?
Though wildly different around the world, all houses share certain characteristics. Let’s explore the ins and outs.
Roof — Without a covering, it’s a yard, not a house.
Floor — It may be dirt, but it’s not water or air. If your residents are standing in a pool up to their waist, or swinging in hammocks 30′ aboveground, you’ve built something other than a house.
Privacy — Roof but no walls = carport or equivalent.
Toilet — Yes, in some parts of the world this is not inside the house. If you live in one of those places, you may dispute this requirement.
Services — Electricity. Running water. Drains. See above note for quibbles.
Egress — Without a door suitable for us humans to enter through, it’s not a house, it’s something else.
Lighting — Even if it’s windows and skylights, there’s a way for light to come in.
You may dispute any of these if you choose to live in the house yourself.
If you plan to sell the house, or even sell time using the house (called “renting”) I defy you to leave any of these out and still succeed.
Just as my editor does more than make sure my sentences and paragraphs make sense, my proofreader does more than ensure spelling and punctuation. Both are writers themselves. Equally important, both are avid readers.
The first proofreading pass of That She Is Made of Truth garnered some confused commentary from my proofreader, James. Plot points unclear, connections muddled — I could tell he wondered, a bit, what I was doing.
We need new words for all the things we mean when we say the word “editing.”
Proofreading is a separate word for a separate process and yet I’ve seen the word editing used where the writer clearly means finding and correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Let’s all agree not to call that editing. It is proofreading.
Professional editors may divide editing into even finer gradations, but I practice two: line editing and developmental editing.
A line editor ensures that each word is the right word, that each sentence says what you mean, the best it can be said. They make sure that each paragraph is properly constructed. And they do it all without stripping your voice from your writing or overlaying theirs.
A developmental editor looks at the big picture. Their job is to determine if the book as a whole is a whole. Are there sections or chapters missing? Does everything happen in the right order? (This applies to both fiction and nonfiction.) Is there extraneous material?
A developmental editor will tell you if your novel contains the 12 essential waypoints in storytelling. They will tell you if your business book clearly teaches the points you’re trying to convey in the most effective manner. The developmental editor’s job is to determine in the broadest perspective whether or not your book works. Then, in either case, to offer suggestions and refinements to make it the best version of your intent. Continue reading “Editing: Finding the Right Words”
Used to work with my buddy Mike. He serviced pet grooming equipment, which is way more fun and interesting than it sounds. Huge mobile workshop.
Biggest part of the business was sharpening clipper blades. Clippers have two blades sliding back and forth past each other so unlike knives, which need a beveled edge, clipper blades need to be flawlessly flat on their face, the surfaces where they meet.
When Mike first started training me, sometimes I’d ask him to check my edge. Are these sharp enough? Am I overdoing it, grinding too much metal away, shortening the life of the blade? Am I working fast enough?
Because he’s the closest friend I’ve had in my whole life, our conversations included a bunch of personal sharing you might not expect to find in a greasy hairy machine shop on a truck. Life, the universe, and everything — we covered it all.
In time, the phrase “check my edge” came to mean more than the mechanics of blade sharpening. I’m almost 20 years older than Mike. He grew up in the country, having adult responsibilities when he was quite young. We each had a vast storehouse of experience and knowledge the other didn’t. We shared. A lot.
When one of us asked the other, “Hey, check my edge?” it was about the value of another mind and heart, another set of life experiences, weighing in on a choice, a challenge.
Imagine, though, if you were dying of thirst (you are, you’re a writer) and the person holding the hose kept shutting it off so they could adjust something. Spurt of water; shut it off, adjust. Spurt of water, shut it off, adjust.
You’d strangle ‘em, screaming “Just give me the water!”
That’s what your heart is doing when you write slowly, methodically, with your head. Because you don’t write with your head, you write with your heart. You edit with your head.
No one but you will see your unedited words, so don’t worry about whether they’re perfect.
Because if you worry that they’re perfect, nobody but you will ever see your words, period.
Elizabeth Spann Craig shares an excellent outline of her method for rewriting. It’s short, but involves a lot. While writing should be done straight from the heart, rewrites and revisions will involve a bit more of the structural orderly stuff done best by other parts of your brain.
I’ll soon be doing the rewrite for the sequel to Through the Fog. Once I finish it.
Please welcome Rosanne Bane, author and writing coach and one smart cookie. Since I’m not here to beat this drum she’s gonna do it for me.
Trying to edit while drafting is like trying to polish your shoes while walking. Actually, it’s more like trying to polish your shoes while trailblazing over rough and unmapped territory. It takes longer to get where you’re going, you can’t possibly get a good shine and you’re almost guaranteed to lose your balance and fall.
“Short Cuts Make Long Delays” – J.R. Tolkien
Your brain stem and limbic system can do more than one thing at a time, which is why you can walk and chew gum and still notice cars in the crosswalk. But your cortex, your creative brain, simply cannot multitask.