Posts Tagged ‘editing tips’

Your Inner Editor & You

After writing about editing the other day, I remembered a post on my old blog about the Inner Editor.  I thought I’d share it again in case it’s useful to anyone…

I’ve got a writing friend who’s struggling with her Inner Editor while she’s writing the first draft of her novel (which is wonderful) – it sounds pretty gruelling, with a couple of paragraphs taking hours and hours because the Editor won’t let her just write! I’ve been thinking about the problem a lot as it’s something I used to really suffer with.

When writing an email to this friend, I articulated an idea I’d been pondering for the last week or so:

I was thinking about the process of writing a novel the other day and realised that it’s a lot like sculpting stone: Michelangeo didn’t carve David’s perfect face (with that amazing profile and those sensuous lips) into the slab of rock, then make a perfect neck and then some broad shoulders; he roughed out the hunky David from a block of marble, gradually refining the whole shape from ‘blob’ to masterpiece. Tell that Editor, if it’s good enough for Michelangeo, then it should be good enough for her!

So here are my tips for making your Inner Editor shut the hell up:

  • Try, just for a session or two, writing without being able to see what you’re writing. If you use Word or something similar, change the font to white, or at least a pale grey; if you write by hand, place a sheet of paper over what you’ve written. This way you will get used to not re-reading, re-writing and agonising over every single word, line and paragraph.
  • Any time your Inner Editor rears her ugly head while you’re trying to write, remind yourself (and herself) that there’s a time and a place for editing and writing the first draft of your novel/short story/poem is not it. Which brings me to…
  • Do not write and edit in the same period of time. Some writers start their writing session editing the previous day’s writing and that works for them, which is fine, but if you’re having problems with your Inner Editor not actually letting you write, then clearly a different approach is in order. Allow yourself to just write until your first draft is done and promise your Inner Editor that she will get her say once it is written. If you can’t manage that, then give yourself a word goal – once you’ve reached 20,000/40,000/half-way, then review and edit what you’ve done, that way you can spot and fix any problems while they’re still in progress, though you do run the risk of finding it hard to start up again when you go back to writing. (This way of working has probably helped me the most while writing A Thief & a Gentlewoman.)
  • It’s great to have readers who will be honest and constructively critical about your work, but perhaps save their services until you’re ready to edit and think as an editor. Preferably once you’ve finished the task of writing, or even until you’ve given the work a once-over yourself. Their comments, however true, will only bring out your Inner Editor and put you in edit-mode, seeking out all those typos, repetitions and scenes that aren’t yet working to full capacity. Which brings me to…
  • We all have sympathetic readers (at least I hope so – if not, find some, be they friends or family who like to read your genre or sensitive members of your writers’ circle) – this is their time. I’m not talking about people who don’t know anything or will just say “yeah, it’s good”, but people who are sensitive and sympathetic to the fluffy, delicate little creature the writer can be when writing that first draft. Receiving an off-hand positive comment can almost be as bad as receiving a bad critique – you’ll think “they don’t mean it”, “they’re just saying that” or “did they even read it?” A little constructive criticism together with praise of what’s working can really boost your confidence and show you where the text’s strengths lie (when you’d probably been focusing on the weaknesses!) and the minor criticism will remind you that they’re not “just being nice” and they do know what they’re talking about.

I’d love to hear anyone else’s tips for coping with the Inner Editor and writing a first draft.


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Thanks to distracting friends and sun, I’ve only finished my editing for last week on Sunday evening, so I thought I’d take a look at the process of hammering your manuscript up to standard.

A lot of writers suggest doing separate read throughts for different kinds of editing – an method I find effective.  As it’s so close to deadline (4th September!) and this is only the first part of a novel, I’m not going to be doing much of the over-arcing edit – cutting out scenes, altering the overall pace of the novel, and large changes, such as re-thinking characters, etc.  There are still plenty of read-throughs to be done, however, and I’m still looking at the pace within this first ~40,000 words.

  1. Line edit.  This is a close reading of the work, checking for typos and spelling/grammar mistakes, but also getting rid of reptition which happens a lot if you’re writing a first draft and forging on without re-reading (which is what works best for me).  At this point, I’m looking for errors and mistakes, really.  This would normally be done after that big edit as it would be a pain and potentially a waste of time to closely edit a scene or chapter which you then decide needs cutting because it doesn’t serve the plot or slows the story down, etc.
  2. My next read goes a little deeper, picking out the problems that are slightly harder to spot, such as clumsy phrasing and cliches.  This involves re-writing sentences or passages here and there, re-wording cliches and finding more interesting imagery for those tired, trite descriptions.
  3. Hack ‘n’ slash.  Not like an RPG, but more like weeding.  At this point I’m no longer distracted by the problems solved in the first two passes, so I’m trying to be brutal and cut out the flabby bits – the superfluous description (which I am prone to in a first draft) and over-writing.  For example, when walking into a new scene, pick out the interesting, important details that either give vital information or a flavour of the setting.  Don’t describe every detail and cut out those that don’t add to the sense of space.  This is hard to instruct upon, as it involves your own judgement of what’s important to your story.  This doesn’t mean leave everything in, because you wrote it in the first draft, this does mean take some time away from the first draft to get some distance and as you read, ask yourself honestly if this sentence contributes to the story, if that adjective is really important.  Adjectives and adverbs really need to justify their existence in your writing (the latter even more so).  Of course, this depends on what you’re trying to achieve and the style you’re working in – my short story, The Usher-Woman, was written in the style of Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber, therefore it’s heavy on the description and rich texture… at least, that’s what I was going for!
  4. Finally, when I’ve made all the changes I think need making, I look over other people’s comments and suggestions and look back over my own notes – sometimes I note changes for earlier chapters as I’m writing or think of something while I’m out and about.  As a consequence, I have lots of notes in random places – notebooks, my phone, scraps of paper (put safely in a folder when I get home!).  At this point, I bring all these notes together and make more changes.  Sometimes you’ll find you’ve already made a change noted elsewhere, and sometimes someone else’s comment or suggestion doesn’t fit with what you’re trying to achieve.  You don’t need to make every change someone else suggests, however, note criticisms and ask yourself if there’s a grain of truth in what they’ve said.  Other people’s questions can show you that something isn’t clear and therefore needs changing or clarification.  Evaluating critiques is a complex issue and could be a whole post in itself!
  5. OK, second finally – have another read.  I guarantee you’ll notice something else that needs changing.  At the same time, you need to know when to stop.

Now for some sewing time… maybe…

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