The unbearable lightness of editing

by K. Trian

It was well put on, if my memory serves me right, that your novel is not finished after you’ve typed the last word. That’s just your first draft. The finished work is, of course, the one you have proofread, edited, sent out to be beta-read, edited again, read through, edited, tweaked, turned, added and deducted, sent out again, edited, edited, edited…

True, there are editors out there, but they don’t re-write your first draft to a publishable form, so, really, there’s no escape from editing.

I’ve come across several comments about how much writers dislike editing and proofreading their works. Understandable. It can get boring, or even embarrassing, very likely infuriating, and such was the case with me as well. But now I have grown to really love editing.

It’s like calculus or algebra, which I hated back in school, but I have come to enjoy now: the intricacies of mulling over sentence structures, weighing adjectives, catching filters and expositions and renegade commas—just to get to my end result, neatly marked under a straight line like a math problem in your notebook.

Sometimes I treat our work like it’s research, an article we have written to a scientific journal. I try to manufacture a map inside my head; how the elements connect within the novel, whether its structure is cohesive, whether I can pinpoint the goals of the characters or draw the arch of the plot. It’s challenging, especially with our WIP, Solus, because it’s a mastodon of a novel.

I also want the story to look pleasing to the eye. The dialogue and narration parts are neatly in order, there are enough paragraph breaks, I even ponder the words—“Could I have assonance or alliteration here? That’d look and sound nice!” And then there’s all the sculpting that must be done! Am I repeating myself here? Is this sentence necessary or have I achieved the effect I wanted with a certain utterance? Am I explaining too much? Why are there so many howevers, seemeds, reacheds, nods, frowns and smiles? Do I really have to mention whether it’s the left or right hand, or whether he aimed his gun or just shot at whatever? Can I show the surroundings without huge info dumps?

And even after all this work, the writer is still blind to their mistakes (at least we are!). It’s easy to edit others’ works, way easier to spot illogicalities and grammar errors. But with your own work… well, we have read Solus 1 well over half a dozen times, and every time we come across mistakes and faulty logic and ‘goddamnit this doesn’t make any sense!!!’ –situations. Every. Single. Time. Just yesterday we were reading a part where the main heroine, Lise, fights robot sentinels in an abandoned research station. Something struck her as odd three or four times within several pages. How did we not notice this verbal fuckery before? And how many times does Reggie, the male hero, grin on one page? Way too many. What’s with the grinning! Get some help, dude!

Editing can be frustrating and painful, but it can be fun too, especially when the writer can laugh at him/herself. Yes, at first it unnerves you, even disgusts you, but you tell yourself the world wants you to do it, that you owe it à tout le monde. Can’t give them a half-assed work, can you? You know it’s gonna hurt, so you have to ease on to it, take it easy, fix little things here and there. Sure, at first it does, hurts to find out you are not as brilliant as you thought, but little by little you get used to savaging a part of you, your manuscript. And maybe even learn to like it! Yes, editing can be unbearably fun!

So good luck to all of you aspiring or already published writers. Pull the editor’s hat on and get polishing your masterpiece!




One thought on “The unbearable lightness of editing

  1. I like to think of the writing process as analagous to sculpting. Your first draft is like hewing the rough shape of the figure from the stone: you can see the general idea but the details are murky, maybe a bit wrong, and definitely not deep enough to be a work of art.

    Each redraft, each spate of editing, chisels a bit deeper into the stone and brings more details to light. It’s a process of excavation — many sculptors have said that they see the finished statue within the block of stone and their work is digging it out — and it’s that continuous work, that constant correction, that will eventually make it feel Right. Or at least more Right than the amorphous blob you have at the end of the first draft.

    Work work work! No one can fix your story better than you!

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