We’re continuing to discuss self-editing for fiction writers.
Ms. Browne’s example of fighting her inner editor while writing her latest article comforts me, because I often have the same struggle. My inner editor is very strong-willed and hard to resist for long. However, I’ve found some ways to work with my inner editor rather than fighting it. In case anyone else has this problem, I’d like to share my strategy: When I’m tempted by the urge to micro-edit (grammar, word choice, etc.) while writing my rough draft, I just jot down editing notes in the margin if I’m hand-writing the draft, or if I’m typing, I’ll put a comment in brackets after the related sentence or word.
Randy sez: I do something similar in Microsoft Word when I’m writing first draft material and don’t want to be stopped in my tracks by possible logic problems or research needs. So I’ll just insert a Comment that says something like: “Logic problem: Does this make sense?” or maybe “Research question: What sort of food would they eat for this holiday?” Then I just keep on typing the story without losing any momentum.
Later, when it’s time to edit, I just use the View Comments feature and there are all the comments. Click on each one and it takes you direct to the place in your manuscript where there’s an issue. The Comment itself tells you what the issue was. Fix the issue, erase the Comment, and you’re done.
Anyway, I have learned so much here and through books on writing, now I realize 90% of what I’ve learned is about polishing and perfecting the prose. I GET perfecting, that’s part of the package here. But I feel like I’ve skipped over a foundational part of learning to write…the creative part.
So I guess I’m not an artist, after all. ACK!! I find that I’m a thinker, not a storyteller. My themes and ideas are much better than my writing.
I think I need to unlock the creative side, or something. I wonder if I should take a local college writing course, the kind where they lock you in a psychedelic room with an odd assortment of objects to look at and pipe in classical music and make you write non-stop whatever comes into your head. Do they still do that? Maybe they outlawed it.
Randy sez: Everybody is different, and you don’t have to try to fit somebody else’s pattern. If you read the Dean Koontz interview recently on the Novel Journey blog, you know that Dean does an awful lot of rewriting as he writes. He basically doesn’t move on until the page is perfect. Works for him. It would kill most of us. Find what works for you.
As for unlocking your inner creator, here’s an old exercise that I’ve heard recommended for getting those creative juices flowing: Time yourself for five minutes and write one long sentence on any old topic you feel like. Don’t worry if it’s lousy. It’s supposed to be lousy. Just don’t stop typing. Shoot for the maximum possible word-count. A nonsensical sentence is fine, just type!
You can also do this in your head (and you’ll find you can think a lot more words in five minutes than you can type.)
PatriciaW asked Renni Browne:
There are so many aspects of editing (spelling and grammar, word choice/usage, sentence structure, theme, etc.) What order would you suggest attacking them in?
Renni answered: Which issues are most troublesome to you? You could always knock them off in descending order, starting with the thorniest.
Randy adds: Start with the big picture and get that working first. Then work down to the middle picture and the little picture. Discerning readers will know that I discussed how to analyze these in Fiction 101 and Fiction 201.
Kathryn asked Renni Browne:
What is the difference when editing a short story versus a novel? What do you trim in a short story that you normally wouldn’t in a novel? How do you decide what’s too much or too little when the story is so much smaller? Currently, I have two finished short stories and one novel under serious construction.
Renni answered: In a novel, as in a short story, you want to cut what doesn’t add or enhance, what isn’t special, what in any way undermines your good stuff. But if you leave something in a novel that really shouldn’t be there, it’s less exposed. In a short story you can’t get by with a word or phrase that doesn’t belong. As to how you make the judgment calls, I’d definitely recommend professional feedback. Short stories are short, so it wouldn’t cost much. Again, your manuscript is your child, so you’re almost certainly too close to it to be 100% objective.
Randy adds: I don’t do a lot of short stories, but I’ve found them extremely challenging. I put in much LESS effort on pre-planning a short story. (I don’t Snowflake it, I just sketch out a few ideas and then write it.) However, I put in much MORE effort in editing the thing. A short story has no room for fluff. Every sentence has to count. In a novel, a sentence can be showing the StoryWorld or displaying the Characters or advancing the Plot or expounding on the Theme. In a short story, every sentence should be doing double-duty; it should be contributing to two of those simultaneously. That’s what makes it hard.
It’s not so much a matter of what to cut as how to make each sentence hold more without adding any extra words.
Tune in again tomorrow, when we tackle more questions on self-editing.