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.
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.