One of my New Year resolutions was to make sure that I was keeping in touch with the outside world at least once a week with more than just a snarky FB post or two, and in that vein, I made a promise to myself to blog every Friday come hell or high water.
Yeah, that didn’t last too long. But in my defense, I’m in the middle of edits on Destroyer and I know that my readers would much prefer that I finally FINALLY get Destroyer out the door rather than blather away here about non-essential stuff.
Which brings me to my very short (*yeah, right) blog post about the hell pit authors call “Editing”.
To be fair, just about every author has their own take on editing. I know some authors who swear that they write a clean enough draft the first time that they hardly have to cut anything at all. I know others who live by the Stephen King ‘cut 10% rule’, and others who almost rewrite the entire book during the editing phase.
I’m somewhere in between all those examples.
When I first started out, I was a seriously wordy mofo. The original draft of Watcher was over 118,000 words . . . crazy. That’s like the size of a epic fantasy right there. Most novels these days and definitely first time novelists in the genres that I write in come in around the 80,000 words range. Paring Watcher down to its final 78Kish was, well, you can imagine not entirely a barrel of laughs. Protector was more like 90K pared down to right under the 80K mark, and Betrayer ended up being even smaller at around 77K (don’t quote me on that).
Now on my 6th book, I’ve come to recognize some home truths about myself :
- My writing has gotten tighter
- I’m still a wordy mofo, but I know the signs when I’m going off the rails
- Pacing is my Achilles heel
- Editing for me is still more about stripping out than putting in
- I hate writing in 1st person; all my series moving forward are likely to be 3rd person only
- Thank god for my editor, Amanda
One of the ways that I’m probably different from a lot of authors is that I don’t prescribe to the vomiting method of first drafting. The OCD in me cannot cope with regurgitating the first thing that pops into my brain and leaving it alone on the page. Simply put, I can’t write dog poo and leave it there for 300 pages. It’s like a needle at the base of my skull wheedling away until I go back and try to make whatever rubbish I just wrote better.
My advice to first time writers would be don’t do this. It’s bad for flow, it’s bad for productivity. I’ve killed and stalled out more lovely passages by going back than I care to admit to. The only saving grace is that I’ve learned not to go back and tweak until after I’ve gotten the new word count down for the day. I leave editing for when my creative brain is mush.
That’s my coping strategy, but it comes at a cost. My productivity is much slower naturally and paired with my current eye issues, really drags down my word count. Yes, I’m neurotic about this. Having said all that, when it comes to the editing phase, my draft is already cleaner because I’ve done edits along the way. Occasionally, a real corker will get through. I’m going to show you an example right now. Don’t laugh. I actually recognized that it was a corker and highlighted it to come back to later (a rare occurrence) because it was so horrible that it would’ve been going down the rabbit hole to fix it. As it turns out, I cut it entirely.
Here you go, Shining Ones fans –
“Wait!” I held my hands up, glancing between the two guards. Moredcai raised his palm and gave them the signal to halt. “There can’t be any harm in you at least telling me a little bit about this place.”
“Fine, if it is a history lesson you want then a history lesson you shall have.” He paused and gave a pointed look to the guards who stayed by my side, but didn’t take a hold of my arms. I exhaled slowly. “But try to run off or do something foolish and it will not be pleasant. Come.”
Brusquely, he turned and started off again, but this time his pace was unhurried. His words followed behind him like a wafting, lazy swirl of smoke –
“Lucien’s – shall we call it pet project – saw its humble beginnings take root in the eighteenth century. Not in this country,” Mordecai waved his arm around airily, “this one was barely a step above the savages, but there were other men in Europe, emboldened with just enough knowledge to make them dangerous, but perfect for Lucien’s plan. He allowed them to think it was their idea – rather ingenuous given that your kind were full of superstition and fear back then. It was far too easy for him to corrupt the more hungry ones.” He pointed to the oil portrait of a man dressed in old-fashion garb kneeling in a cave, a naked and well-proportioned woman reclining in repose at his feet. “Dashwood was always a bit too pompous for my liking. Thick as a plank as well, but keen.” Mordecai carried on past the painting leaving me to follow behind him. He pointed out the other portraits that lined the hall. “They all were. Eager for forbidden knowledge. An appetite for power beyond that which they already had. Arrogant, exceedingly rich, greedy, but also easily manipulated when their egos were stroked. As all powerful men are. That made it easy for Lucien. He had them exactly where he needed them.”
OH MY GOD. CAN YOU SAY SHOW DON’T TELL? Also, cheese factor 150%.
First indicator should’ve been the size of this paragraph. If I have long drawn out paragraphs, I know immediately I have a problem because I’m a short and punchy sort of writer. Most of my paragraphs are 3-4 sentences long.
Second indicator is that it does in fact read like a history lesson. BORING. History wasn’t fun in high school, it’s not gonna be fun now. As much as I’d like the reader to know about the history behind the fabricated Hellfire Club in my story, this ain’t the way to do it.
And lastly, I fell for the infamous info dump because I was looking for filler for the scene unfolding. If I have to scramble for filler, I’ve already failed because filler is a no no. Every piece of information a writer drops in a story should have a purpose and that purpose is to propel the story forward. Some will argue that character descriptions and details that round out a character are also important and don’t necessarily drive the plot forward – that’s true – but 8 out of 10 times, if a writer is dropping information in that doesn’t somehow connect back to the plot then it just drags the reader out of flow and I’m a firm believer that that’s where bad reviews come from. Authors, you can fight me on this point.
Anyhow, you can see my point, and also, I think it’s worth letting my readers see behind the curtain.Every writer can be a hack at some point. I’m no different. It’s humbling to know that I can still produce rubbish – it keeps me honest.
The rest of my editing routine is a bit boring and I won’t bore you with those details, plus, I’ve got to get back to editing in order to get this manuscript to Amanda if I want to hit my release date. I may post more corkers for you as I go along if the feedback is positive.
Thanks for giving me a chance to ramble on.