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On pulling teeth February 12, 2013

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, writing.
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When I told someone recently that I was busy editing my next novel, his response was sympathy, and he said, “I’d rather have my teeth pulled.”

This seems to be a common reaction to editing. Why is that? People who manage to get to the editing stage of a novel don’t seem to take as much issue with writing it, though undoubtedly that’s the more time-consuming part of the process.

A novel is a big project. It takes quite a bit of time to write it. As a result, most people simply can’t keep everything about it together while writing it, and mistakes are bound to happen along the way. I think many people accept this fact while they’re writing, quietly, perhaps even subconsciously agreeing that as long as they continue writing to the end of the book, those things can be fixed in editing later.

Perhaps that’s the reason editing gets such a bad reputation. It forces one to acknowledge one’s mistakes. Perhaps it’s just the snowball effect of realizing that fixing one issue can cause several more through the story based on how that thing affects future events. Perhaps it’s the rigid quality standards of editing, that nitpicky insistence that now everything has to be polished, which means it has to be sanded again and again and again before it attains its luster, as opposed to the freedom of simply writing. And yes, I’ve seen it happen – one can edit all the life out of a story.

Personally, I don’t really feel like editing is all that different a step from writing. It’s still the act of crafting a manuscript, even if that involves tweaking, readjusting, rewriting, and a lot of thoughtful consideration rather than actually writing. Though perhaps my current view of the process is warped, given that most of the editing I’ve been doing on my next novel has been rewriting, which is really just writing.

I’ve always edited my work, at least when I had something I felt like sharing. I’d reread it at least a couple times and polish it up, though usually that happened along the way, not in one fell swoop as I’m doing now. That, of course, leads to problems when one gets late in a story and those things one forgets along the way end up creating inconsistencies. Fortunately for me, I suppose, none of my attempted novels prior to Aurius ever reached completion, so I didn’t have to deal with that level of editing until then.

So how do I edit a novel? With Aurius, perhaps because it was written at the breakneck pace of NaNoWriMo, for the first time in my case, I actually was able to keep even minor details together while I wrote it. The story and characters were also fairly simple. As a result, the book was pretty near to where I wanted it to be by the time I finished the first draft, and it only took minor wording changes – and things like chapter breaks – to clean it up until I considered it done.

Halcyon was my first true taste of novel editing. I had to reevaluate plot points, research some setting concepts used, and improve some characters. Once I identified what needed to be improved and how, however, the process of doing so was a simple matter of writing, that step with which I am quite familiar. Overall, it was hardly a painful process, even if it took me three years to get to the point that I felt I could improve on the story with some fairly simple editing.

Enduring Chaos is, of course, a different beast again, both for reasons that I’ve mentioned in previous posts and for the fact that this story has gone through so many very different drafts already. It’s a very exciting project for me for a number of reasons; part of it is that it has gone through so many iterations already, that after three other full drafts it is finally coming toward completion. Part of it is also that it has become a much larger and more epic story than nearly anything else I’ve tried to write, this being the first book of a trilogy. It’s also very exciting because this is such an old story. Aurius and Halcyon were both relatively new, each written within a year or two of their conception, but Enduring Chaos is something I’ve been trying to write for nearly fourteen years.

Perhaps that’s why editing this particular novel doesn’t seem such a chore to me, because I’ve seen the story and characters change so much already over the years. More than that, though, I’m simply enjoying making the book better. For each scene that I edit, I feel better about the novel in general.

Generally, that’s how I feel when I edit. Because that’s what the point of editing is: to make the book as good as it can be. And even though I’m at the beginning of a plot point that I decided needed to be cut entirely, I’m anticipating the rewriting to come, since it will ultimately end up better than it was before.

How do you feel about editing?

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Comments»

1. Michelle Proulx - February 12, 2013

Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. I like going through a story I wrote and making minor changes to fix up wording, or adding in zingy one-liners. I hate having to re-write half the book because the plot fell apart (what I’m doing now, lol).


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