The Writer Edits

Every writer has his or her own process for working.

I’ve met people who write slowly and edit as they go, so each sentence comes out pristine and ready-for-action.  These people labor over the words and how they want to craft their ideas on the page so that the product after an hour of work might be 300 to 500 words, but what incredible words they are.

I am not in that camp.  For me, and hour means 1000 words of ideas, perhaps half of which are usable.  Oh perhaps I am being hard on myself, but I have a tendency to over-use adverbs and complicate my sentences with too many thoughts in one.  I am notorious for leaving out commas, though I avoid passive voice pretty well.   What this means is that I can do the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where writers produce 50,000 words in a month, without too much pain.  However, after the 50,000 words is where I get stuck.

Editing.  Revising. I hate ‘em.

I know that if I go back and smooth over my work, it all comes out better.  I know that if I tighten up my dialogue, characters walk off the page more clearly.  But I don’t like doing it.  It has been suggested to me that I journal to see what it is I don’t like about the process.  I should force myself to do it and see where my roadblocks lie.  I have another friend who suggested that I like my words and I don’t want to delete them.  I’m not sure either approach is quite right – maybe it’s a combination of ideas on why the thought of it makes me attend to every task known to man before sitting down at the computer to actually do it.

I do know that I had an experience last week where I wrote a short story with a certain contest in mind that I wanted to enter.  The story, which came out pretty well on the first go, was just over 1800 words – very short.  I tried an experiment as I wrote – I wrote VERY SLOWLY.  Like others I know, I crafted the words carefully, and wrote down ideas on a separate piece of paper if they popped into my head as I was drafting.  It worked.  As I forced myself to edit, I realized that the work was better – much better – than any fiction I’ve produced in quite a while.

Then I looked at the contest rules.  The story had to be 750 words or fewer.  I still had to cut half of it out.  It took me almost two hours, but I did it.  I cut cut cut.  I took out adverbs and the word “said” from everywhere.  I completely removed an ancillary character from the story.  There was a small, two paragraph flashback, and it too, hit the bin.  The story is different from the first version in many ways (of course I kept both!).  I like them each for different things, the way one likes her children – for the different things they offer.  (Let me know if you want to see the two stories – I’m happy to send them.)

It was a great experiment for me to do that story.  I feel stronger for it, though I do not like the process any more than I did a week ago.  At least, though, I can appreciate it.  I have a NaNoWriMo novel from a year ago that needs a lot of work.  The bare bones ideas are good and I think the characters are fun.  The book need beefing up and paring down all at the same time.

It seems to me to be a good February and March project.  Editing.  Here we go!