WRITING: Self-Editing Fiction

I’ve been writing and editing my own work for over twenty years now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to new ideas. When I first started writing, I wrote on paper using a typewriter, retyping whole sections to edit out the errors. Currently, I write on a MacBook Pro, using Scrivener, synching scenes in progress with SimpleNote, so I can edit them on my iPad. Needless to say, my current work process differs from the process I had when I started out.

First a couple of things that tend to confuse beginning writers:

  • Writing and Editing use different parts of the brain. Editing while Writing uses more energy, but most Writers have trouble ignoring the Editor.
  • Most Writers produce a first or rough draft that is not fit for consumption. This is normal.
  • When Writing, there is no rule as to the length of the scene, or chapter, or dialogue, or narrative. That will be sorted out by the Editor.
  • Don’t sweat the grammatical issues, the Editor will sort them out. Just get the stuff that’s in your head onto something tangible outside your head.
  • The Editor doesn’t work on a computer screen. That’s why Writers print out their books and use a highlighter and a pen to edit their manuscripts. Or they make an e-book draft (see below).
  • If you wait for the right moment to write, you will spend a lot of time waiting.

Since I used to write on a typewriter, I understand the advantages of writing on a computer, but there are also some disadvantages. Like having to print out your work, or losing a few scenes or chapters or even a whole book if you do not to back-up your work. This disadvantages are minor compared to the advantages of creating on a computer. You can Edit your first draft without the need of having to retype the whole bloody thing for starters.

Let’s start with that. Too many writers try to churn out perfect copy when they’re supposed to be creating a story. This tends to stir up a conflict between the Writer and the Editor. While the Writer just wants to get the stuff in his head on paper, the Editor is constantly pointing out grammatical errors, overused words, typos, clichés, run-on sentences, punctuation issues, and so forth. All important issues, certainly, but Any Mistake Can Be Remedied in the Second Draft. And, more importantly, the Editor is distracting the Writer from the creative process. The first or rough draft is supposed to be an outpouring of creative energy, and anything that hinders or blocks the flow should die in horrible agony.

Only to rise from the ashes like the mythical phoenix when the first draft is finished, because now the Editor can get to work. Like I stated above, the Editor doesn’t work on a computer screen. I’m sure there’s a chorus of writers who will naysay this assertion and claim they can Edit on a computer screen, and I’m sure they can. Nothing is set in stone. However, most writers agree that you’ll find mistakes and errors in your prose when you’ve printed the manuscript that you didn’t find when you read the text on a computer screen. I think that’s because the computer screen is for creating, not for correcting.

So, I used to print out my work, carrying around a sheaf of paper (that’s 500 pages), a pen and a highlighter. And wondering why people though I was nuts, screaming at them to close the goddamn door because my papers were flying around. Ah, good old times.

All this changed when I got an e-reader. With some simple conversion programs, I could take my draft, turn it into an e-book and upload it to my e-reader. And most e-readers have a built-in highlight and note function. Even better, instead of a stack of paper with scribblings in the margins, I could select ‘View Notes & Marks’ and get a neat list of all the editorial scribblings I’d made in the e-book.

First things first, though.

Computers allow for pre-editing the rough draft to eliminate some of the most irritating errors. First, use Find+Replace to eliminate extra spaces, and search for filter words, crutch words and overused expressions. If you don’t know what I mean by that, send me an email and I’ll send you a Word file with words that you can safely eliminate from your manuscript, like ‘actually’, ‘very’, and ‘seemed to’.

Then the rough draft goes into the e-reader that I can take everywhere without fear that my papers blow everywhere or that my highlighter/pen will run out of ink. As long as I don’t forget to charge the battery regularly. Reading your manuscript like a reader will reveal mistakes that you had never taken into account, like the number of times the name of your protagonist is featured on the page [too many or too little], how the dialogue is confusing without speech tags, how the small paragraph of information you squeezed in turns out to be two pages of exposition, etcetera. Many e-readers also have ‘text-to-speech’ features that allow for a bored robot to read back your awkward prose to you.

And when you’ve finished Marking & Notating your entire manuscript, you sit back down behind the keyboard, View the list of Notes & Marks, and make the changes.

So fill your screen with unreadable garbage and revel in the fact that you can polish the turd in a few months, when your draft is finished and your creative juices are depleted.

Enjoy your writing, and let me know if you liked this post. I might write more articles that distract you from writing your own garbage.

 

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5 Comments on “WRITING: Self-Editing Fiction”

  1. […] V. Halm has a very good post that talks about self […]

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  2. victorinox says:

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this post and the rest of the website is really good.

    Like

  3. elletodd says:

    I did like this post. I’m also enjoying this entire site. (And because you asked, I found you through the Easy Reader blog, with the headline, “FAQ: Permafree on Amazon?”)

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    • Thank you, Elle. Glad you enjoy my blog, I try to add content that people can really use. Don’t hesitate to comment on any article with questions or additional information.
      And thanks, by the way, for telling me you came through Lynda Dietz’s blog–I verbally spar with her regularly on GoodReads, she’s a cool lady!

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