Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Editing (Ugh)

Question of the day: I am intrigued by the fact you edit 50 pages at a time. I usually write the whole MS and then edit once it is complete. I would love to know whether you've always done it this way, or have experimented with different ways, and why this works for you (knowing that everyone is different!).

This is by no means a hard and fast rule for me. But I've found that it really helps me with continuity and refreshing my brain as to small details I might have overlooked or plot lines that I now need to focus on. As I've said before, I don't write an overall outline as I go - again, for me, it just messes up the idea that I write where my characters take me. For example, in Happiest Days, I had originally conceived one of the main characters to vacate the plot at about page 75. Well, a lightening bolt hit me last week that - huh? - isn't it so much more complicated for everyone if he sticks around? Why not try that? So I am. It's a harder choice, writing wise, but I think it's a smarter move for the book. If I'd mapped out the book religiously ahead of time, I wouldn't have even given myself the freedom to really dig deep and consider this option.

But I've digressed. So, because I keep all of the details in my brain (something that I know doesn't work for everyone), I really like to refresh myself on what I've recently written. I helps me keep momentum with not only my enthusiasm for continuing to write (I often discover that what I've written is better than I thought), but it really pulls me into where I need to go next. So that's my reasoning.

I should note, however, that once the manuscript is complete, I definitely go back and read it from the beginning and do an edit that way too. Frankly, I could do never-ending edits - hell, there are still lines in both of my books that I wish I could change. But c'est la vie. At a certain point (for me, that's when my editor and agent say, "Perfection,") you gotta let go.

How do you guys go about your editing process? I'd love to hear.


Emma Leigh said...

Great blog. I'm an aspiring writer and its always great to hear other professionals speaking about their experiences and processes. On to editing:

If I suddenly change something in the plot I go back to previous chapters and change it then and there. Other than that I edit when I've finished as I find it ruins my creativity to edit as I go.

I also do the trick of after the first edit to not touch it for a month, write something else then come back to it. You find you're alot more refreshed.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

It's good to hear a little more about your editing process, as it reminds me that I'm not overly fretting if I shine things up rather than constantly hurtling forward.

I've been trying my hand at a Book-In-A-Week, although I'm not aspiring to a whole novel, just a good amount of writing each day on top of everything else. As a result, I haven't reread anything and just keep pressing on, and I've noticed I feel more and more like I'm wandering in the dark with a dying flashlight. Not too sure where I've come from.

Doing this has made me realize what my comfortable writing/editing style is, which is helpful! I also really really agree with your comment of discovering the writing is better than you thought. It's such a wonderful boost to keep going forward.

Unknown said...

Dear Allison.

My name is Marian Hernández and I´m from Spain (sorry for my english).

I´m writing a biography about you for a literary blog here in Spain. I´ve found some usefull information but I can´t find your date of birth, the city where you study, education,etc .

I´ll be very pleased if you could provide me this information or another that you consider important. I won´t like to write any information that could not match strictly the truth.

If you want, I can send you the link of the blog, when the work has finished in order you can check any information included in it.

I hope you can help me.

Thanks a lot.

Marián Hernández.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I finished my manuscript subscribing to my motto "as if." That means if I changed something I just made a note (or many notes) and continued in the manuscript writing AS IF all the changes had been made. Now that I am editing, reworking and rewriting some of my novel, I'm incorporating those changes and making it all consistent. I like the idea of editing 50 pages at a time as I go along. For this book I wanted to finish the first draft, because that was something I'd not done before. I can see how systems and ideas evolve as a writer evolves.

I'm curious (and I've blogged about it recently) how you keep track of time in your books. I'm finding as a character might have a birthday or with the change of seasons, I'm having trouble pinpointing age or time.

I'm leaving those particulars for my next pass thru the manuscript.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

I find editing so difficult sometimes. I'm more of a visual person, so it's tough for me to wrap my head around what I've put down on paper once it gets past a certain size. I find that butcher paper helps - I put a huge sheet on the wall and draw with sharpies where I take my story and characters. Laying it all out in front of my makes it easier for me to see holes, or where things get redundant/too complicated. It's really nice to be able to just cross out a huge area and say, "no, that just didn't work" and see where else will be affected.

suzanneelizabeths.com said...

I appreciate your 50 page method since it also helps you to keep details straight as you move through the ms.

Anonymous said...

It's helpful to hear you say (or read) that you go back every 50 pages or so to edit your work. I'm 192 pages into my book, and I'm starting to waver on the timeline and plotline of my story.

I think that going back over the 15 or so chapters I've already written will give me my own refresher course on my story and help me motor towards the end.

Speaking of which, two questions for you.

First, I'd heard that many young adult novels (which I'm writing) are 40,000 to 70,000 words long. How hard and fast are these word length rules? I'm already at 39,000+ and nowhere near ending.

Second, HOW do you know when it's time to end your story? How do you go about wrapping everything up?



Stephen Stark said...

I saw, I think in a interview, a quote from you talking about being really interested in taking suggestions from editors. A lot of writers, apparently, are not, but to me an editor is there to add value, and a relationship with an editor who can sort of triangulate for you where you might go but haven't thought of, or where you might want not to go because it's wrong for the piece, or has some great insight into how a transition could be made—I love that.

To edit or not to edit—like you, I could pretty much edit forever. The problem (for me), a more or less intuitive writer who doesn't do outlines, is getting stuck in a recursive loop of editing while still working on a ms. I recently tried out Apple's Pages application (a very good word processor) and I really liked it because when you close your document, you can go back to where you last left off.

This is also possible in MS Word, though because word doesn't handle large documents well, I've always set up novels as master documents with each chapter as a subdocument, and that shift f5 deal has never worked for me in a master document. So in Word I'd have to search around for where I was last and invariably I'd get caught up in some small and fairly niggling question of usage or something and rather than adding value, I'd screw something up. Or just never get on with the story for worrying over a perfectly good paragraph.

With Pages, it opens where I left off (the way that the Mac version of WordPerfect used to) and I can just keep going. And where I am with the novel now, the thing I need to do is just keep going. The revising, real revising, will have to come later.

Thanks for the insight into the way you work with your blog. Always interesting to see how others do this very strange job.