Saturday, 16 October 2010

Editing and My Process

Recently, I’ve been editing. It’s been easier than I thought to come away from writing so much, seeing as writing is pretty much what I’ve been doing all year. I would go from one novel to another, with barely any stopping point in between. A week is probably the longest I went without working on a project. So the editing stacked up. This is me finally getting around to it.

Admittedly, I psyched myself out with editing. I told myself it was a long, awful process, filled with struggle, hardships, and long hours spent crouched over chapters. In fact, I rather like it. Editing is good in that you get to look over your previous work, laugh at it1, then fix it. It’s a given that your first draft – even zero draft – is going to be terrible. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, continuity, character flaws, dialogue, chapter length, history and science ... I’ve had trouble with them all. But you fix it. The reward is from that sense of accomplishment; fixing the work you slaved over and making it shine.

Editing is a long process. That part I was right about. At the moment, I aim for editing a chapter every day. That’s 7-8 pages of size 12 font, checking each page twice, writing comments, fixing small syntactical errors, changing structure, adding ideas and cutting. Lots of cutting. When I first started editing the pages, it took roughly one hour. But as my editing process has changed and grown, it’s nearing two hours per chapter. It is a long time to spent crouched over the paper (I have terrible eyesight), back screaming, and a million and one things left to do.

But I put aside the time. To be a writer, you have to. There’s no two ways about it. If you don’t have the time to put in, then don’t even attempt to start. Because you won’t finish. There’s another skill writers have to learn. It’s called making time. You make time whenever you can, through little snippets and caught moments. Time management is probably the biggest and greatest unaccredited skill you gain from writing. Use it wisely.

I’m very teacher-like in my editing style. I edit with a red biro because it stands out on the page and it tricks my mind into already thinking of what I need to fix. These aren’t annotations. They’re edits. And even if I’ve left my school days, this still comes back to me. Something as small as this can have a big impact in editing process.

The first thing I do when I’m editing is print it all out. That’s 250 pages strained out of the printer. Needless to say, the ink levels were next to nothing when I was finished. But trust me when I say editing on paper is the most useful editing tool to apply. There are so many flaws and mistakes that pass you by on a computer screen. It’s easy for your mind to glance over mistake and automatically fill the right words in. Don’t get caught in that trap.

I only edit the chapters on the computer when I have checked and rechecked my paper edits. And even then, the edited chapter is in no way the final draft. When I’ve finished all my computer edits and got the feedback from my test readers, I’ll probably print out the entire manuscript again. It’s a long process. But not one you should dread or avoid.

Editing is long and tiresome. But it’s also extremely rewarding. I have a massive folder for the manuscript, each chapter contained in the plastic wallets. A forty page folder containing thirty four chapters. Over half of them are edited on paper, and the other half will be complete by 24 October, if I follow my one-chapter-a-day schedule. The sheer pride I feel leafing through that folder is unbelievable. Because that manuscript in my hands? That’s my baby. My first ever novel, just waiting to get better and better. It’s mine. That’s what makes editing worthwhile. That’s what will keep me awake in the early hours, what I’ll change my schedule and make time for.

Take pride in yourself and your work. Trust me when I say you won’t regret it, even for a second.

1 I had a male character literally reference his mother spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I’m a women, and I’m sure it was late enough that I didn’t realise the sexist connotation, but I still wrote it. Needless to say, it made me laugh so much I nearly cried. The joys of editing.