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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2007-08-15 19:07
Subject: [process] Editing
Security: Public
Tags:process, writing
I was recently asked about my editing process, and promised a response here. I have to say (disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer) that editing is my most difficult bugaboo in the writing process. First drafts are mostly a joy and a privilege, when I am channeling the story and discovering the setting. Editing feels like work, by Ghu.

That being said, my editing process is a multipass approach. The numbering is for convenience of discussion more than a reflection of either order of priority or order of process.

First is the line edit. This is simply reading through the manuscript for typos, wordos, dropped words, duplicates, and so forth. Nothing ever goes out the door without this edit, though sometimes it has been the only edit I've been able to accomplish on a given piece.

Secondly, and often done simultaneously with the line edit, is the style edit. This is reading through the manuscript for issues of prosody, rhythm, rhymes (accidental or intentional), alliteration (accidental or intentional), echoes, clunks, infelicitous turns of phrase, and so forth.

For both of these editing layers, a read-aloud is extremely helpful. Here's where one of my idiosyncracies comes into play. I pretty much can't manage a read-aloud by myself. I am virtually shameless, as many of you know, but reading aloud to myself in an empty room feels too much like being the crazy uncle in the attic. So I really like to read to someone when I can. (This isn't terribly practical on a novel, sadly, at least not for me.)

Third is a structural edit. This has to do with things like sentence order, scene order and so forth. A fairly common error in writing, for example, both mine and other people's, is reversing cause an effect. "He turned as a shot rang out" is backward, to use a very simple case. This happens because as I'm writing I arrive a bit of plot or action, then rationalize it into the story, but don't realize I'm doing it. It can happen at the line level, the paragraph level, even the scene level. Occasionally even the chapter level.

Fourth, and also often done simultaneously with the structural edit, is the plot edit. This is making sure the events and characters progress in the order which the story calls for. Linear is nice if you're telling a linear story, but if you're telling a non-linear story, then the order of the reveals is far more critical and tricky.

Other passes (or at least watch-fors within passes) include a continuity edit, reading for character development and arc, and a high level readablity check on the story as a whole.

I strongly recommend against having a checklist approach to these processes. I do multiple editing passes when time and energy, but in reality I'm reading at most of these levels most of the time, with a shifting focus with each pass. Much of my journey as a writer has been to develop a holistic editing approach that encompasses these layers, along with more granular issues (handling gender perspectives, for example). Right now I'm shifting focus with the goal of achieving a more conscious competence, dialing up specific aspects of editing to work on them.

I don't have good practical advice here, just some descriptive narrative. This is my own weakness as a working pro, which I need to advance beyond to improve my craft and professionalism.

Comments? Your own observations and experience? Suggestions for me?

ETA: As I should have pointed out in the first place, the brilliant yet talented kenrand has written what may be the best book on editing process ever, The 10% Solution Amazon ]. I highly recommend this book, which in addition to a much more detailed high level overview than this post can encompass, also has some excellent nuts and bolts suggestions for the editing process.
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Chris McKitterick: whale breaching
User: mckitterick
Date: 2007-08-16 04:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:whale breaching
I feel exactly as you do: First drafts feel like magic when going well, or like fun challenges when not working as fluidly. But revising can be a real pain. It often feels slow and tedious, but sometimes it's a joy when (for example) doing a style pass I discover a way to reinforce the theme or imagery or character trait or something throughout the story with a few language changes, an added scene, or so on. So at their best, revision passes can be a joy, too. But mostly they feel like work.

I try to keep my notes nearby when writing and revising. For my last story, I used two monitors: One for notes and research, one just for the story, and this worked really well - better than paper notes. Keeping notes nearby helps me make sure to work in things I want to emphasize during the entire process of writing and editing. It's surprising how often I find something in my notes that I never managed to write during the first draft, and during revision it just slips in naturally.

Thanks for all your writing notes tonight.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2007-08-16 04:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:*writing
I tend to do a first pass where I mark up the manuscript for everything that's third or later on your list; then I fix the marked items in the order that I feel prepared to tackle them. Once that's done, then I do the first two, which I refer to collectively as my line-edit. I leave it until then because I shouldn't waste effort polishing something that might get ripped out or otherwise radically changed.

The read-aloud is fabulous as a last shine. I do it with every short story (also every conference paper), and I've been known to do it with novels, but that can be exhausting.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
thewylddream
User: thewylddream
Date: 2007-08-16 08:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Putting finished chapters in a three ring binder so you can look back and put your outline and other notes in there as well sounds like a jolly good way to get myself more organized. I am so glad I read the comments on this post. Thanks guys!
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kenrand
User: kenrand
Date: 2007-08-16 05:25 (UTC)
Subject: a suggestion...
There's this book titled The 10% Solution: Self-Editing for the Modern Writer. I hear it's pretty good. :)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-08-16 13:27 (UTC)
Subject: Re: a suggestion...
Duh. I should have mentioned that in the first place. I've added it to the post.
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thewylddream
User: thewylddream
Date: 2007-08-16 08:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

My only real comment is “Thank You Jay.”

Prattle: I have been thinking a great deal about editing today and my only real advice to myself was “More.” and “Better.” You have given me a great deal to think about.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-08-16 13:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You are most welcome!
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manmela
User: manmela
Date: 2007-08-16 08:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
When I do non-fiction I'm able to write and edit at the same time using a LEGO-type approach (sentences are formed like grouping LEGO blocks into paragraphs and then those paragraphs arranged to create the article). Unfortunately, for some reason I can't do this for fiction. I wish I could, as I used to be known for my speed at writing articles (something editor's valued along with my ability to nail word counts on the head when they had last minute gaps to fill)

With fiction I am still finding my approach, I might do a line edit looking for typos and grammatical snarfus once the story is finished but currently I then leave the story for a couple of days and then come back to it. My first read when I come back to the story is an objective "Is this story any good?". I've had time to fall out of love with the story so this pass should tell me whether the story is working overall. I need to do more work on being able to separate out all the elements so if the prose is great that doesn't cover up for problems with the plot. At the moment, this read through is generally a yay or nay. So if I love the prose this may hide other elements of the story that don't.

Generally this read-through might highlight areas of the story that need revision. At the moment it's just trimming paragraphs or expanding them. But it's interesting that whatever you do, it won't be those elements that readers will say are good or bad.

However, I think most of my revision happens during my writing, and probably explains why some stories take so long. If you saw me at work at the keyboard, you'd see me write in a bizarre way. I may start at the second paragraph, and write a line from the last paragraph before I'm half-way through. Then every so often I stop, as if bored or stopping to think, and go back and edit previous paragraphs. Glaring typos will be changed, paragraphs reordered before I go back and write some more. Sometimes things will be re-written before continuing, but it usually means that by the end of the first draft a lot of editing is already done.

Convention says that editing and writing should be kept apart, and I've been trying to do that, but it seems the left and right sides of my brain like to work in unison and so I'm trying to perfect that method.

What's interesting is that I've tried other approaches but this one (whilst not perfect) works the best for me. I'm not sure I've explained it properly but I'm still discovering this myself; A story I wrote writing by hand then editing on a computer scored a 2.4 (and an editor's choice) from the Online Writing Workshop but had major elements missing. A story I wrote directly on the computer using my combined editing / writing process is currently scoring all 4's and 5's.
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Mindy Klasky
User: mindyklasky
Date: 2007-08-16 10:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Apparently, I'm the oddball in this crowd (don't worry, I'm used to it!) but I much prefer editing to first-drafting. I find it comforting to have the screen filled, to know that I'm "just" massaging things into place. I think that my preference for editing comes from my years of writing as a lawyer, where I spent upwards of 75% of my time editing briefs written by myself or others.

As for staging - I push myself to get a draft written of the entire novel, going back over each approximately-5000-word chapter two to five times to smooth it for sound, sequence, and organization. When I think the chapter is finished, I march on to the next. When I learn that I forgot something or need to tweak something, I put a bold-typeface note to myself at the top of the chapter that needs editing. When I "finish" the last chapter, I go back, fix the bold problems, and then read through the entire thing, start-to-finish, muttered-out-loud to the cats (I usually don't have enough voice to read the whole thing out loud.

Ah... quirks among authors...
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lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2007-08-16 11:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For both of these editing layers, a read-aloud is extremely helpful.

Jerry Pournelle said that he reads aloud to help figure out what to cut and what to keep. I've found it very useful because it forces me to slow down and deal with what I've written.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2007-08-16 18:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Interesting. I have two editing processes--the one that goes on during first draft composition, and then the structural/proofreading/continuity edit that goes on later.

When I am doing my original drafting, I'll immediately print out the work for the day (usually this is after the 4:30-5 am writing time during the school year). During the day, I'll go back and edit what I've written and extend what's been written. In the evening, I'll incorporate the day's edits (usually done during lunchtime and other idle moments) and extend the day's original writing a bit longer. Then I'll print that work out, take a break, and do a final edit before going to sleep (with additional extension of that day's writing which is then typed up in the early morning writing period). So some sections may have actually been revised up to two or three times during the first draft process.

During this process I'm saving each section by chapter. The next process is a continuity edit. I sit down with a notebook and review each chapter, making notes for needed additional research, development and modification as I go through it (I find I write better without a detailed outline as otherwise my backbrain and Internal Bitchy Editor take over everything and I can't get writing done).

After this edit, I work on the submission final. I will print out each chapter individually, and as I edit it, the finished version is added to the big novel file. If WordPerfect was still an option, this is when I'd create the Master Document. Since it's not, I'm cussing at Word.

When I'm finally done with this version, I let it sit, then I go back over it for proofing.

At this time I don't go through critique groups--a sideeffect of getting my teaching certificate and my Masters in special ed is that I did too much group writing and critiquing for me to be comfortable with the process any more. If I had a reliable beta, that'd be a different thing--but too many of the people I know who might do it are prone to doing line edits instead of the big overview stuff, which is what I really want (look, I teach remedial writing, I don't NEED line edits as I end up doing this for a living and critique my colleagues at the moment!).
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kmckiernan
User: kmckiernan
Date: 2007-08-17 04:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is excellent, everyone. Jay (and everyone), do you mind if I link this post to my blog (http://www.kathleenmckiernan.typepad.com). I'm going to attempt to gather posts from writers on specific writing process and this'd be a good 'un to go under editing.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-08-17 13:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Please, feel free. Anything of mine which isn't locked can be linked or quoted with attribution.
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kmckiernan
User: kmckiernan
Date: 2007-08-17 17:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Fab! Thanks.
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Rugor
User: rugor
Date: 2007-08-17 10:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I start with a printout-- three hole punched in a binder. I read along making notes on the back of the previous page. This is where I look for obvious holes and make some line edits of things that really scream at me. The most important part of this pass is to identify plot and structural edits that need to be done.

I've been running dual monitors for years, and it really helps in the editing process. I have OneNote up on my secondary monitor and can just flip over to it for anything I need to get down right now.

My big quirk is that I need to either have done the big structural/plot edits, or at least know what they're going to be before I start worrying about getting into the line and style worries. I fix obvious things there too, but I need to know what the details are going to be so I don't smooth it into something that can't happen because of a later plot or structure edit.

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User: tsheehan
Date: 2007-08-17 22:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It was great to see that I'm not the only one who feels like editing is work. Thanks for posting this!
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