Editing and revision

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  • Laure Hittle

    Essay polishing? Story arc refining? Flat characters? Weak sentences? Here’s a place to come alongside each other and share both the challenges and ecstasies of the second, third, and fourth (and tenth and eleventh) drafts of our works-in-progress.

    Matt Garner

    A hard truth for me to learn (still learning). If my story is stuck, then that usually means I’m too attached to a plot point, character, device, etc. that needs to be cut.


    Laure Hittle

    Ooh, @mattgarner. That’s an uncomfortable observation indeed. “Kill your darlings,” as Stephen King says.

    I’m just about done with the first draft of my first story. It’s kind of big, >100,000 words.  I have no prior experience with this so I’m not sure how to approach the next step… rewriting the whole thing.

    I’m using scrivener. Any seasoned writers out there who would care to comment on their favorite way to proceed from where I am?

    Do you print it out, with spaces to write notes in?

    Do you have special ways to mark it up?

    Do you edit as you go electronically? (strictly avoid editing on the fly and instead make careful notes then rewrite the whole thing?)

    I’ve heard that you’re supposed to cut a good percentage of material at this stage.. do you ever find yourself adding much too?

    Do plot paths revise and change (or is that a slippery slope to avoid? I do hope to finish one day soon!)

    Does the rewrite go faster than the 1st draft? Slower? I’m really hoping I can grind through this faster than the years spent on the first step, since I don’t have to struggle with new material.

    Thank you!

    Joe! 😀

    i don’t qualify as a seasoned writer at all… 😛 But i can say yes, i always find myself adding when i’m supposed to be cutting. 😛

    i hired an editor this fall to help me learn how to revise, but we’re not very far in yet and the piece we’re working on is only about five pages long. i do print out the whole thing, and between us we use inline editing comments, but with a much longer piece i don’t know what the best way is of tackling that.

    That is my utter lack of expertise in this area. i hope somebody with more experience pops in. And i’m so excited for you! i want to read your story!

    Thank you Laure! You’re ahead of me so if it’s working for you I’ll try that too. Thank you for your response!

    @joeb, i can’t wait to hear how it goes!

    At this point I’m writing mostly nonfiction, so my perspective might be a little different here. But I am in the throes of revising an article for a deadline (next week!) , so this topic is timely.

    Here’s one thing I’ve found especially helpful: as I edit, I paste everything I cut into a separate document for notes on that particular piece. I may never look at those notes again, but there have been times when I’ve needed to recover an original point or revisit some older phrasing, and it’s been nice to still have it intact somewhere. I also find it easier to “kill my darlings” if I know they’re not entirely dead–just relocated 🙂

    Also, I dip into William Zinsser’s classic, On Writing Well, when I’m in the last stages of revision. His enthusiasm for clear, concise language is a great help when deciding which words to keep and which to cut. Though he writes about nonfiction in that book, a lot of his advice on language applies to fiction as well.

    Good luck, @joeb!

    I just came across this article in my Rabbit Room travels!

    Perhaps you’ve read it? I hadn’t. But it’s beautiful.

    1 user thanked author for this post.

    I’m working on a short story (my first ever) and did the first many revisions with my husband’s input over the space of a week. I think I enjoy this process as much as the initial writing. I did most of my edits directly in the story, but it’s only four pages single spaced. For any larger sections that needed cut or heavily reworked, I’d copy the original to a separate document, just in case I needed to go back to it. I think if it were a longer draft, though, I’d be inclined to double-space it and print it for editing, like I used to do all our research papers. It would be easy to get lost trying to rework a much larger piece with this method.

    After we had taken our short story as far as we could, we put it in a google doc and sent the link to some trusted friends (one of whom is an editor). With comments enabled, my friends are able to give input into places where things don’t make sense (like they do in my head) or where the plot is weak or where the wording is awkward, and then I can accept their edits directly or have a conversation in the sidebar about a highlighted section… The story is SO much better for this process.

    Once I’ve revised it to death (or life!) I’m planning to throw it out to the Rabbits to see if we can further improve this thing. I’m excited to see what’s to become of this story…

    "I really wasn't a reader, until I started reading." -Mick Donahue

    1 user thanked author for this post.

    Thank you, Laure, for starting this forum, and to everyone who has contributed.

    I have read that it is essential to hire a professional editor before submitting your work for publishing, but I’m sure many first-time authors don’t have the cash for such an investment.  It seems that some of you edit your own work, or ask friends for input?  Or do you all recommend saving up the money for an editor? Rachel, I see that you are blessed with an editor friend; how wonderful for you!  I live in a small community without much opportunity for meeting other writers, except online and at the occasional conference.  I am open to advice!

    Oh groan…editing. I am in the midst of editing my first book…a historical fantasy. This is my third go-round. The first two I did myself, this one I saved up and hired a professional editor.

    So….now I am slashing and cutting…and trying to follow her recommendations. It’s really hard. I’m having all sorts of second-guesses about it all. Mainly confidence in myself as a writer, I guess. She has recommended such deep changes that it’s hard to know how to do it, but I am trying.

    Feeling gloomy about it all, to tell you the truth. I don’t really have the option to go back to her and see if what I’m doing is working, either. Unless I want to pay her again to reread the whole thing. So…I dunno. I have been working on this thing so long in isolation it’s difficult. I really, really envy those who have a writer’s circle of friends who give feedback along the way. I’ve tried to find that, but have never had success.

    O woe is me. I shall try to get out of Eeyore mode and head back to my MS with my axe….

    Oh, and @joeb I use Scrivener, too. Love it for writing but I haven’t quite figured out the best way to use it for editing. Snapshots are great, but what I’ve done is copied the whole she-bang into another new document and am using that to do my edits on. So I always have my original for reference.

    I also found it helpful to compile it all into a mobi file for my Kindle, and to read it on there. It was like a “real ” book…and I could put notes in the kindle as I went along on where I found things I needed to fix, and then go back and fix it on the Scrivener doc. That really helps me.

    Editing for me is mainly about cutting, not adding in. If I added in I would never get done. I tend to overwrite, so I need to be ruthless. The only time I add something is if, in cutting a scene that wasn’t working I also cut some needed info, which I have to rework in somewhere else. Sparingly. 🙂

    Eric Heiden

    @lisa I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling this way. Glad to hear that you’re still working at it.

    A friend edited a short story I was working on, and when I got the MS back from them, I briefly questioned whether I should even be in the writing game, so I can understand that “gloominess” you talk about. I’ll keep your MS in my prayers. Keep us all posted.

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    Ack, you guys, this is hard. i feel you. i’m an overwriter, too. i suspect revision is a skill that gets easier with practice, but meanwhile: Ow. i think working in isolation really does make it harder, too. For me my words feel like real, tangible creatures, and the longer i spend with them the more true that is, so having someone to dialogue with earlier in the process is helpful to keep a broader vision of the plot/themes/character development as i go, so the words can serve that larger goal and not become an end to themselves. But those friends who have been able to walk with me through this are not writers themselves—they’re just good sounding boards. So if you don’t have a writers’ group handy, what about a trusted friend who could listen as you process?

    Was your editor encouraging, also? Did she point out things in your manuscript that she loved or thought you did well? For me that goes a long way in helping me to have the confidence to keep going.

    Rachel Donahue

    @athenaz317 I have a friend who just self-published her first novel. She and I were co-workers when she started it, so I read over many of her early drafts (even just early chapters) and edited them as I could (mostly for grammar, as I knew nothing about writing fiction) and acted as a sounding board for her plot and character difficulties. She also asked friends who were avid readers to give her feedback on it, though I’m not sure how helpful that was… In my experience not many readers are willing to give critical feedback. Maybe they just don’t know how. After we had taken the manuscript as far as we could, she hired a professional editor, and my friend was kind enough to let me  listen in on the phone call to discuss her suggestions. The editor was very affirming and encouraging (though it was hard for my friend to hear that because it’s so much easier to focus on the negative–I had to repeat the many affirmations to her), but her edits were spot on. My friend took the advice and cut some things and rewrote others, and her novel really came together after that. She submitted it for a second go with the editor, spent maybe a year sending out queries (maybe longer), then published the book herself. I feel like I learned a lot from walking through that process with her.

    I just finished the first (really rough) draft of my third short story, and it was painfully slow. Maybe it’s just the season of life that I’m in, but the process is taking even longer than I had imagined. I’m torn between whether I should forge on with another story or go back and edit the first few (again). I have a big vision, just little time…

    I heard that it’s best to separate the creation of new material from the process of editing because they use different sides of your brain. That’s so hard for me because I’m constantly slipping into editor mode. Do you guys have the same problem? How do you keep moving forward without constantly rehashing what you’ve written so far?

    @laure, yes, I agree. I think there’s real value in having someone to dialog with. I’d love to have someone with experience with fiction to be a sounding board as I think through world-building and character development. (Am I on the right track? Is there something painfully obvious I’m missing?) At what point would you consider paying an editor for feedback?

    @lisa, hang in there. Remember that your work is temporal, but you are made for eternity. Your work is not a measure of your worth. 🙂

    "I really wasn't a reader, until I started reading." -Mick Donahue

    Laure Hittle

    @racheldonahue Speaking of worldbuilding, AP speaks very highly of Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. i haven’t read it (it is languishing patiently on our bookshelf), so i don’t know how specific it is regarding those genres and how much could be adapted to more real-world settings. And along those same lines Patricia C. Wrede’s worldbuilding questions seem really helpful also. (i am not what you’d call a seasoned veteran… i need to do a lot of work in this area myself.)

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