Thursday, September 18, 2008

Writing Versus Editing

I love writing.

I loathe editing.

Let me clarify. I hate editing MY stuff. I write my first drafts very quickly--I can get to 100k in 20 days without a problem if I'm on a roll. When I'm writing my first draft, I don't worry about word choice or bad habits--I just plow on through. For example, I use LOTS of dialogue tags and adverbs--they set the characters' mood throughout a conversation--when I write a first draft. So, the main purpose of the second draft is to write most of them out. I replace them with actions or with internal dialogue. Probably, in the long run, I strike about 90 % of them during the course of the second draft. Then on the third draft, I discover that I cut some needlessly or that I left the wrong ones in.

From that point on, it's a juggling act.

I was editing an manuscript for another writer the past couple of weeks and I found myself commenting, "You need to find some other action for theses characters other than "he looked and smiled." or "she glanced away and sighed" or "he nodded his head and frowned."" Then when I went back to my manuscript every single instance where I had done that glared at me from the page. So I went back through and cut most of those.

Even notice in your writing that you have a pet phrase or word? Mine is 'suddenly.' After a thorough analysis of the 'suddenlys' in my manuscript, I determined that I'd used the word 1800 times in a 120k manuscript and of those 1698 of them were placed where the action wasn't really sudden. Out came the red pen, out went the suddenlys.

No matter what anyone says, editing is the most important part of writing. Sure, the imagination needed to create fiction is vital as are the personalities you give your characters. But in the long run, the editing is what will take your work where it needs to go. Without it, your novel has virtually no chance of success with either agents or publishers. So no matter how much you hate it, you an't avoid it. I sent back a round of first edits to an author a few months ago where the entire right-hand margin of the manuscript were covered top to bottom with little red balloons. Great story; no editing.

So the moral of this story is: you know how all the submission guidelines tell you to make sure that your manuscript is clean? Believe them. Eliminate all those pet phrases and grammatical errors and misspelled words and send them as perfect a product as you can. No one will recognize your genius if you send them sloppy work.

Learn to love the red pen--it is your friend. Trust me.