Top Ten Tuesdays — Please Welcome Therese Walsh of Writerunboxed.com

Welcome to  Top Ten Tuesdays, a series of guest blogs by winners of the “Top Ten Blogs for Writers” contest hosted at Writetodone.com

Can Editing Be Fun? Maybe.

a guest post by Therese Walsh

First, I want to thank Larry for having me today on his fab site. It’s great to be here!

When I asked Larry what he might like for me to blog about, he gave me a few ideas. He knew I’d just turned a completed manuscript over to my editor and was waiting for the first round of notes and edits. Could I speak to the editing process? I thought about it; what did I have to offer here that might be fresh? And what I came back to is something Larry said: “I know in my experience this is the toughest stuff. The writing is bliss, the editing is WORK.”

You might think this crazy, but for me, editing is…fun. I have the harder time getting ideas onto the page to begin with. I toil over concepts, the timing of reveals, characterizations and descriptions and most especially the wording of my sentences (8,302 of them in my work-in-progress; I just counted).

Something happens to me, though, after I hit that final period in my draft—the end. I turn from fretful writer to dispassionate editor.

How? Why? And fun? Am I crazy?

Introducing Write Brain, Left Brain

When I complete a draft, the writer-me is exhausted and desperate for a break. But the part of me I’ve been suppressing—the manager who’s kept a mental tally of better ideas—is eager to have a turn. Some would say that the right hemisphere of the brain—the side that’s credited with our creative functioning—has just passed the baton to the left hemisphere—the more analytical part.

Bear with me as I ask you to envision these hemispheres as if they are real people. Right Brain is the artist—a little disheveled with a smudge of blue paint on her cheek and a half-dead daisy tucked behind her ear. Her long skirt is fringed with tiny bells. Left Brain is all business. Power suit. Flats. She carries a hatchet in one hand and a red pen in the other. Her smile is a little evil.

You can’t blame easy-going, love-my-bells Right Brain for hesitating to pass her work over to hatchet-happy, evil-smiling Left Brain, can you? But she’s exhausted, she needs a break, and Left Brain is there, waiting…

The Steps to Editing Acceptance

Feeling resistance to editing your work is completely normal. You’ve labored over your story for months, maybe years (six years for my debut!). You don’t want to change anything. You don’t feel you need to change anything. Or maybe you just don’t feel it’s fair you should have to change anything. All normal. But you also know that writers who don’t edit their work usually remain unpublished, so you’re going to do it. Here’s how to make the process a little easier for you and Right Brain, and even (gasp) fun.

1.     Create a safety net. Open the file containing your work-in-progress and use the “save as” function to give it a new name. You should now have two files—the original and this new one. Right Brain is content knowing that Left Brain can go hatchet crazy on a copy of the manuscript that isn’t hers.

2.     Make friends with the red pen. Not everyone may have this experience, but I find that I become a different sort of writer when I have a pen in hand. I adore the loops and arrows, the circles and splatter marks I make with a red pen on white paper. And I sense Right Brain’s approval of Left Brain’s unexpected creative streak. She relaxes a little; maybe Left Brain isn’t so evil after all.

3.     Start big. Right Brain’s anxiety doesn’t spike until you start messing with her words. She’s way less likely to freak on you if you move blocks of text around and delete nothing. If you have structural changes you’d like to make, do that first. Color code the moved blocks, too. It’ll help Left Brain keep everything in order, and the rainbow shades make Right Brain coo.

4.     Attack the sentences. Right Brain hates this part. Left Brain’s hatchet is out, she is slaying words, sentences, and full paragraphs, leaving them to die their red-ink deaths all over your carpet. Don’t delete-delete these sections. Tell Right Brain that you’re putting them on probation instead. If you use Word, you can use the comment function here. Cut-paste your deleted text into that comment box, and move on knowing all is not lost—just in case Left Brain doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

5.     Acknowledge smart changes. Once rearrangements have been made, once blocks of text have been deleted and new words added, Right Brain will get it. The rework is better than her original. Maybe not all of it. But most of it is an improvement. She accepts that editing is necessary, even…awesome.

6.     Observe a moment of silence. Right Brain is never going to be entirely happy about the dead darlings on the office floor, but she can keep their literary carcasses around if she’d like—in a separate file. And you can always do what I did and share one of them on your Facebook page, to give a prize darling a moment in the spotlight.

Ready for the Big Time

Best thing about learning how to love editing? When your actual editor comes back to you with her Left-Brain list of things to consider and change, your Right Brain Writer Self will recognize the process. There’s no evil here, only the desire by all brains involved to create the best product possible. And you will survive it. You will.

Do you love editing, or hate it? Have any tips or tricks you’d like to share? The floor is yours.

Write on!

Top-10 blogger Therese Walsh operates WriterUnboxed, a great resource about the craft and business of fiction.  She is also the author of a well-reviewed book, The Last Will of Moira Leahy: A Novel, which was a finalist for the 2010 RITA Award for Best First Novel.  She can be reached through her blog site, or at her author website.

35 Comments

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35 Responses to Top Ten Tuesdays — Please Welcome Therese Walsh of Writerunboxed.com

  1. Therese, thank you so much for laying the groundwork not just for writers editing themselves but for writers grappling with being edited by an editor. It’s eye-opening, I know, the first time you call up your document to find Track Changes running amock all over it. One of my oldest and most supportive clients has gone on record saying she saw all that blue and thought she’d been scammed.

    You’re exactly on target saying the big changes—the developmental changes—are easier for the writer to handle first. That’s because there’s still so much more playing for the writer to do, delving deeper and deeper into character and consequence as you excavate the layers of your story. Right Brain can think of Left Brain as her optometrist, clicking through those little lenses again and again, until her story has come more fully into focus than she ever thought possible.

    It’s all there, inside you. Editing is about finding it and illuminating it to the greatest effect, that’s all.

  2. I’m about to dive into the first edit of a completed first draft (Write Brain, tremble in fear!), so every point you made here was a timely reminder. Editing is decidedly not my favorite part of the process (I have to agree with Larry on the bliss bit), but it’s still as intimately satisfying as anything we find in the initial welter of first-draft creativity. Dotting every I, crossing every T, filling in plot holes, trimming lose ends – it may not be as *fun* as writing, but, as a manic organizer, it does my heart good!

  3. Welcome Therese!

    I wanted to stop by to say that I read The Last Will of Moira Leahy this week and LOVED it!! It officially took me out of a reading slump I’ve been in lately. I couldn’t sleep Friday night, the book was on my mind, so I spent from 2 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. finishing it. I will be telling all my friends.

    I’m more left-brained a lot of the time than right-brained, so I take to editing well also. I need to give my right brain a looser leash, so letting the first draft out is usually harder for me. Great post!

  4. I, too, adore editing. The angst and stress of filling up the blank page is behind me, so that it almost feels like rearranging the furniture in a room — all the components are there and waiting for the perfect placement. Only once it’s been combed, restyled, set, and curled does the story take on the fullness of a living thing–alive and breathing at long last.

  5. Victoria, I know what you mean about being overwhelmed by notes. One part of this process that I do not like at all is taking all my red-pen notes and transferring them to my wip. Love your optometrist metaphor.

    Katie, yes! It really does appeal to the organizer in us. Best of luck with your edits!

    Oh, Julie, you’ve made my night. Thank you! I’m glad that Last Will spoke to you. Many, many thanks for spreading the word. (And I will speak to book clubs via phone or Skype!) Maybe I’m more left- than right-brained, too.

    Barbara, beautifully put. 🙂

  6. Great piece, Theresa. You really grabbed me at the rainbow shades making the right brain coo.

    I absolutely love editing, which is lucky since I do it for a living.

    I’m a guy of a certain age, so forgive me if I explain my editing passion with a car analogy: When your car’s missing on one cylinder, it’s sluggish, it shudders, the gas mileage is lousy. Get it firing on all cylinders, and it feels like a different car.

    When writers send me manuscripts that are misfiring, I show them what needs fixing. Between us, we get those stories firing on all cylinders.

    It’s a sweet, sweet feeling.

    Dave King

  7. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who enjoys the editing process. I love the feeling of knowing a piece is done – that I’ve gotten it just right.

    For me, it’s like painting. I work with the canvas and continue dabbing the oil until I know I’m finished.

    Writing is much the same.

  8. Wow, I’d never thought of it like that. For me editing is always a struggle. Like getting up in the morning to do one of the worst jobs in the world. Perhaps I’ve been thinking about it all wrong.

    Thanks for the great advice, and giving me a new way to look at something that is an unavoidable part of being a writer.

  9. What a great way to put it, Theresa. Being a math girl my Left Brain sometimes tends to stifle Right Brain while writing, but when I finish that first draft and can actually ‘get to work’ I am the happiest writer in the world. I simply love editing (which is no wonder as I once was one). That red pen is my best friend.

    Oh, and Dave: love your simili, too. Firing on all cylinders, is there any other way? 🙂

    – Mina Witteman

  10. Yes, I do like the editing process very much. I’ve said this before to several people and I’ll say it again. I’m always happily surprised at the end of the editing session. I see the story I meant to write all along!

  11. Therese,

    Great post. I laughed out loud a time or two.

    As an artist first (that’s my day job) and writer second, I’m in complete agreement with your color comments. I can’t say I love editing, but I am a HUGE fan of using every color I can lay my hands on, whether it’s a pen or on the computer. Even if the edits are depressing in and of themselves, all those colors are glorious!

    I hadn’t thought of using the ‘comments’ function on Word for editing, but I’ve been saving deleted scenes into separate files for years and have saved new copies of manuscripts for editing for even longer. I have around a dozen “proof copies” of one of my favorite stories and it’s never been right.

    Thank you for the great insights and the great post. I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, but I have a notion to pull out that old favorite, save it the thirteenth time and put some of you editing advice (and Larry’s structural advice) to work if only to see what happens!

  12. Thanks for a good post, Theresa. I love editing also. I’m not sure I can explain why any better than previous posters, but for me, every edit is one step closer to perfecting the writing. I don’t expect to achieve that perfection (and trying to do so will take forever), but editing is the only way a work can go from good to great. And isn’t that why we all write? To produce a work of great value in one way or another?

  13. The problem is, my right brain knows a ruse when she sees one! She’s not buying any of this subversive, manipulative crap from that danged red penned-Nazi!

    I just have to face it, they don’t like each other.

    But thanks for trying, Therese!

  14. Therese,

    What a fun and informative piece to read. As a former educator, many of the kids I worked with fell neatly into the right brain or the left brain box. It was a rare student who could create and analyze equally well.

    As a writer who is 99.9% right-brained, I admire the fact that you are so comfortable with both sides. I’m working on a memoir now and I know when it gets to the editing stage, I’m going to need someone to help me with that.

    Thanks for making me smile.

  15. Oh, Therese, well done, and how did you know precisely what I was feeling as I make these edits. It’s a little overwhelming for a first-timer, and my daisy is now missing her petals. But I have to admit that I’m glad my editor carries a hatchet. She’s making this a better book. When I wash my face I’ll be able to see that. Wonderful analysis.

  16. Therese,

    Thank you for such a comprehensive treatment of a fear-inducing pursuit. I feel more like an ally to Write Brain – and less like a party pooper – than before.

    Bookmarked digitally and mentally. 🙂

    Conor

  17. Fiona Wren

    Great post! I’m in the thick of making edits to a completed first draft. I find the process fascinating. At first, it was intimidating, but now I’m relishing the chance to step back and figure out what works and what doesn’t. I’m tweaking the story first, then drilling down to paragraphs and sentences once that’s nailed down.

    Also, I find that years of working as a copywriter has given me a nice bit of objectivity about what’s good and what isn’t. I’m less married to things than I might have been a few years ago. I know it takes a few passes to get it right, and I’m cool with that. I also know I’m not as detail-oriented as I could be, so I welcome the chance to have someone else mark up my work. As long as they don’t write ‘yuck’ in the margins, like one of my old bosses, I say bring it on.

  18. Debbie Burke

    Therese,

    The illustration is a hoot, funny and full of truth. The picture is worth 1000 words.

    I too love editing. My critique groups kid me about the gallons of red ink I spill on their pages. But as you wisely note, it’s not a war between writer and editor, but an alliance/partnership of two different talents to make the story better.

  19. LOL Therese, I love this post! (I also needed to hear it, hehe.) Fave line:

    “Left Brain is all business. Power suit. Flats. She carries a hatchet in one hand and a red pen in the other. Her smile is a little evil.”

  20. Look at all of these people who secretly like to edit. I love it! And I’m glad I’ve squeezed a smile or laugh out of some of you, too.

    Thanks, Dave, for the car analogy, and for a book that’s helped my editing skills a million-fold (though I hold you blameless for my adverbs).

    Oh, Carrie, do it, even if it is the 13th time. Try grey highlights for any text that’s on probation. Right Brain will get it right away; that text is in trouble.

  21. Gina

    Thanks for the editing methods. Am I unusual or are there other people who like to edit as they write? Is that inefficient or the wrong way to go about it? My brain wants to do both as I write.

  22. gina

    By the way, I’d love to hear the name of the book on editing, which Dave King recommended.

  23. Gina, the book linked to Dave King is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I highly recommend it.

    I edit as I write, too, but I think there’s a different quality to the edits that occur post-draft. Probably because you can see the work and judge it in its entirety: What did the story want to say? Did you serve that message? What can you do to improve upon xy and z? It’s a more clinical sort of edit, I guess, as opposed to the edit that occurs while you write, which is very in-the-moment and doesn’t serve the work as a whole so much as it serves that chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence. (I hope that makes sense to someone other than me. )

  24. Great post, Therese. As always, you’ve taught me something new. I also love editing. I also make a copy of my complete file, then start hacking and tweaking and molding. But I’ve never deleted sections and put them into a comment bubble. Ingenious! Knowing I can easily pop it back in (instead of searching the backup version) will make it that much easier to convince myself to just do it.

  25. Steven Daniel Aguilu

    Therese,
    Thank you for this insight. I have always believed that I have something of an ambidextrous brain. I love writing, music performance and charging through a text on linear algebra or calculus in equal measure. Yet I have agonized for over a year on the rewrite of my first novel.
    I think I know why. You see, I am a full time practicing physician and I suspect now that my left brain is in a state of perpetual fatigue. I try to do my editing during nights and weekends but my ready right brain is screaming for more attention. Instead of cutting out the chaff, I wind up coming up with all sorts of distracting, artistic, ideas. Mr. Left (that’s DR. Left to my patients!) is too tired to fend off Mr. Right.
    So, in two weeks, I am taking a vacation to let the gray matter gel a bit and then dig in with the editing. Mr. Right will remain locked in my suitcase until he is ready to behave. And Dr. Left?… he is bringing a #10 scalpel and will leave red splashes that would make Dexter proud.
    Thanks for the tip!

    Steven Daniel (Aguilu)

  26. Amy, thanks for stopping by! The comment function is such a time saver, and it really does help when you’re vacillating over text. Gray it out, stick it in comments, and reconsider later. I also use color-coded comments when I have a specific idea I’m unsure about (yellow highlight) or to remind myself to go back to a section later and lean into a plot point or characterization (red highlight).

    Dr. Left, I am impressed that you’ve written such an able prescription for yourself. Enjoy that rest, and hide the key from Mr. Right.

  27. EXCELLENT!

    That having two documents approach is key. I feel much more free if I know that an original draft is saved somewhere so my “right brain” is happy while I completely turn the original inside out and cut it up with my left brain.

    Do I love editing? Hmm… No. I think my favorite part is when the story is all raw and new. After that I feel like it’s like a dog that used to be a puppy. You love it, but it was so much more adorable when you first saw it at the pound.

  28. Editing…you mean I have to do that too? LOL

    Thank you for a new and refreshing look at the four letter word that I need to learn to love…Edit.

  29. Gina

    Therese, Thanks for the info on the book, “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.” I also love the idea of using the comment feature for editing. It allows for the whole process to be more gradual, when necessary. Sometimes our brains need more time to integrate ideas and new connections–and your approach is perfect for allowing the brain time to think it through. Thanks a lot.

  30. Ollin, I hear you about puppy-turned-dog manuscripts. Nice analogy!

    One more comments tip for anyone who hasn’t used the feature yet and would like to try. You can insert comments in Word using any of several “views,” but I like it best when my view is set to “print layout” instead of “normal” because the comment bubble appears in the right margin instead of in a hidden garble of text below the document. When in Word, play with the comments feature and the view feature, and you’ll see what I mean. Having comments that remain visible–and in their proper place–as you work can make a big difference during the editing process.

  31. I love editing so much that I often dance between editing and writing as I build my manuscript.

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  33. Therese, thanks for this fun and insightful exploration of the writing process.

    Somewhere I heard, “All writing is rewriting.” The creative pushing out of new content is a a joy for me, yet like you my inner editor loves her red pen!

    Would you comment on the stages or different roles of professional editors? Developmental editors, copy editors, etc?

    And I loved your “The Last Will of Moira Leahy” every sentence shined, every character had heart, depth and courage…

  34. Leanne, I like that! It is a dance, isn’t it?

    Thanks for your kind words about Last Will, Deborah! As to your question…

    The first professional editor. Writers should consider themselves their first professional editor, without question. You hope to build a positive working relationship with your in-house editor, and one of the best ways to do that is not to abuse her mind or her time.

    The freelance editor. A lot of writers will hire a freelance editor before their book is submitted to agents (and then publishers) in order to help polish a work to maximize the likelihood of a sale.

    The in-house editor. Reports of editors who “don’t work anymore” are exaggerated, in my experience. If an editor cares enough to buy your book, she’s putting her reputation on the line that the book is Quality. She’s going to do her part to make sure the book is Reader Ready.

    The copy editor. A good copy editor is worth his weight in diamonds. They’re the last line in fact checking, and in making sure you look your very best to readers. Unclear sentence–you want to clear that up, writer? Need a comma here, not one there. Are you sure this is what you mean? I had a wonderful copy editor for Last Will and hope I get him again.

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