Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Writing Wednesday - Editing 1

For today's entry, I thought we could look at another difficult part of the writing process - the sheer terror that is editing.

You've worked for weeks, maybe months, maybe years, and you've got a big block of text.  You have thousands of words, a thick stack of papers that you've poured your heart and soul in to.  Characters you've created, plot lines you've made, worlds you shaped.  An entire universe, that would never have existed if not for you.

Now, you need to turn that stack of papers into a book.  Scary right?

Well, for a start, take some time off.  Feel proud.  Think of how far you've gone, go and see people you've been postponing due to your writing, think about everything you achieved.  If it's the first novel you've ever written, the first you've finished, or the hundredth you wrote, you've done something amazing.  You finished it.

Relax.  Treat yourself - do something you enjoy, if it's going for a walk, or having a nice coffee, or just having a lie in.  You did something amazing, so just enjoy that.  Take some time off, to get your mind clear.Take a week, a month or somewhere between.  Spoil yourself, and think about other things - maybe consider new projects, or put writing to one side.  Then, when you've thought it through, it's time to edit.

First thing you do, is you sit down, and read through the entire story.  You can scribble the occasional note if you need to, but focus on getting your work read.  Maybe your first thought is that it's terrible.  But look beyond that - find the good things there.  Maybe it's a particular scene, or a certain character.  A line of dialogue.  But there are good things.  If it helps you, then highlight the good things as you go.  Just the good things, so you can look back and see how much you've enjoyed.  That'll help you carry on.

Now, two options.  Rewriting, and editing.  Next week, we are going to look at rewriting, but for today, we're going to look at editing.  If you're wondering what the difference is, then rewriting is going over your story and writing it either from scratch, or writing large chunks of it again.  Editing is more small scale - you can think of it a bit like polishing it - getting rid of rough edges and making it look as good as it possibly can.

First of all work out if your scenes are in the right order, and which will need a rewrite, and which will need just an edit.  Some might need a lot of work, and others might just need a couple of adjustments.

A trick I use is to use a website called Wordle:  You paste a chunk of text inside it, and it picks out the most frequently used words, making the commonest words largest, as can be seen in this example here:  You can use it, and take a look at words you've used a lot - I have a bit of a weakness for nodded, shrugged and smiled, and this is a good way of seeing it, without it being overly oppressive.

When you've got an idea of which words you overuse (these are called "crutch words"), then you can keep this in mind as you read through it.  It lets you make small adjustments as you go.  This is the time to look it over scene by scene, making sure that each piece works, and fixing punctuation, spelling, and other things like that.  Some sentences might need to be cut and that's alright.  If what you are writing doesn't contribute to the story as a whole you need to ask yourself if it's worth having.  If your answer to that is yes because it shows a character's personality or reveals something about them then don't worry, that's contributing.

Work through it scene by scene, polishing each one, then look over it from the beginning.  It might be helpful here to print it out double spaced, and make any more adjustments you need.  Then, if you're very lucky, you will have someone you can ask to proofread it, and get feedback.  If no one you know has the time, then instead try and leave it a few more weeks, then read over it again - highlight good and bad bits, then fix the bad ones.

Repeat this, until you think the end result is good - but keep in mind that it is never going to be perfect.  There will always be ways you feel you can improve it, so just like with a piece of art, the challenge is to know when it is finished.  Best of luck with this one - it's down to your own judgement, but it isn't always an easy call to make.

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