As a writer of all lengths of fiction, I always seem to have a work in progress. My muse, who apparently has some sort of attention deficit, like to bounce between novels and short stories and back again. Sometimes, I actually finish things. More often than not, I’m editing.
I’ve learned a lot about editing and revising over the years, through books and online classes and (my favorite) reading books by authors whose style I adore. I’m heading back to my WIP for a long, hard look and I’m considering doing some editing. For those of you who are also currently wallowing in edits, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the process.
I have a huge list of bookmarked articles on the subject... and these are the ones I always re-read when I need to refocus.
Fellow writer and former Query Tracker blogger Elana Johnson recently posted an article on “good vs. done.” It’s a rallying cheer we all need to remind us of our talent and our self-worth (as well as an opportunity to visit her fun vocabulary. I love to listen to her write.)
Sometimes, an editor or feedback group will recommend edits or revisions. It’s easy for us to think it’s because what we wrote is, as Elana puts it, sucktacular. But it’s not. Changes make something that’s already good even better.(And anyways, if it was truly sucktacular, they would have told us to shred it and start over.)
So, once we’re firmly reminded that we’ve already written something worth keeping, it’s time to edit it. Dustin Wax writes that there is no good writing, just good re-writing. Having edited my first novel over the space of three years, I have to agree with him. I find this to be a splendid philosophy for anyone facing the daunting task of staring down a first draft.
Before you start, it’s important to ask yourself what, exactly, you need to do. Are you making surface edits or major revisions? I came across Dennis G. Jerz’s article “Revision vs. Edition" and found a great quick-reference list.
While polishing a short story can be done in a manageable amount of time, editing a large volume—say, a four-hundred page novel—can be downright overwhelming. One trick many authors--and editors--use is to break the process into steps. You can find an example of a breakdown here.
It also helps to make a list of changes you want to make throughout the piece. Just tackle them one at a time and you make big progress with every small step. Take it chapter by chapter, task by task, and remember: keep going. It’s worth the work.
And then, once you think you have that WIP right where you want it, read Nathan Bransford’s advice to see how close to “done” you’ve gotten. If necessary, lather, rinse, and repeat.
But if it’s done, then it’s all good.
Right? *evil smiley because we all know done is never, ever, really, truly, done*