I. The Conversation No One Hears
Writer: I've been trying to think of how to best describe a writer's internal editor. Remember Mr. Hyde from the film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Take that monster, add in the English teacher you hated most in school, plus a little rabid Doberman, and that comes close.
Internal Editor: Paging Dr. Jerkyl -- your kickoff is weak; borderline pathetic. Trying to think? Thoughts that tough for you? And ye olde movie analogy, how original. So? I'm getting insult but no insight here. Where's the burning bush? P.S. If you trot out your issues with your ninth grade English teacher one more time, I will puke on your keyboard. SohelpmeGod.
Writer (patiently): Anyway, rabid Dobermans, hated English teachers, Mr. Hyde -- dealing with that kind of attitude from the internal editor can be daunting. Especially when--
Internal Editor: Daunting? What's that? Did Mr. Peabody crank up the Way-Back vocabulary machine?
Writer: --you're trying to write, and the internal editor keeps butting in--
Internal Editor: Excuse me. Am I the one who can't remember how to spell occasionally with two c's and one s, or who makes her angry male characters sound more like whiny ass little girls?
Writer: --because that constant nag, nag, nag just kills your forward momentum. That's why--
Internal Editor: Oh, just wait until we go through the rest of the WIP, Honeybunch. You're going to be my rewrite bitch for the next month. In fact, I think I'm going to changes the names of every single--
Writer (muzzling the Internal Editor): --you may find it easier to write without the internal editor shrieking in your ear the entire time.
II. Write First, Edit Second, Revise Third
I do not, under any circumstances, engage my internal editor while I'm writing. I don't backtrack, reread or make quick fixes during my writing time. When I write, I am a writer, and all I do is write, nothing else. The internal editor goes bu-bye and remains perfectly silent until I'm finished writing my new material.
The internal editor cooperates because she knows she'll get a brief shot at the new material that evening. I let her off the leash long enough to read through my new material, editing as she goes along for spelling, grammar, typos, and any other technical blips. We then put away that section of the manuscript and start over fresh the next morning with writing more new material.
Once the manuscript is finished, and I have no more new material to write, I take a couple of days off to get some mental distance between me and the work. Then I remove my internal editor's choke-chain and let her take over for the final read-through, edit and revision of the entire first draft manuscript.
This method may not work for everyone, but by completely separating the two main tasks of creating a novel -- writing and editing it -- I find I am happier and more productive on a daily basis and less likely to hit a block while composing the original story. I also have an easier time when it comes to the massive edit because I'm working with a completed manuscript, not story pieces. I have the confidence of knowing that I finished the story, which helps steady me for the less pleasant job of putting it under my internal editor's microscope and picking out every flaw in it.
III. My Approach to Editing and Revising
As I mentioned above, I do a daily technical edit on the new material I write each day. That means:
A. Opening up the file, performing a spell-check, and correcting whatever the computer finds wrong with the work.
B. I then read through the new material from start to finish to see what the computer missed or I don't like, and make corrections again (I usually do this via a computer screen instead of printing out a hard copy because it's convenient and conserves paper.)
C. Occasionally I jot down notes on a pad while I'm reading on some aspect of the story that will affect the next day's work, because once I save this part of the book after the daily edit, I won't look at it again until I'm finished the manuscript.
As thrilling as writing the book is for me, I look forward to the final edit, because I really haven't reread the daily edits, and now look at them through fresh eyes. This waiting-until-it's-over approach to in-depth editing also creates a certain creative distance from the work which I think allows for more objectivity.
How the final edit goes:
D. I use a printed copy of the manuscript for the final edit simply because I catch more on paper than I do on the screen, and this is when I need to nail every problem.
E. As I read through the manuscript, I use a highlighter to mark non-specific problems (such as a scene that reads flat or a chapter ending that doesn't flow into the next chapter's beginning.) I also keep a red pen on hand to make direct corrections to the text (almost exactly as a copy-editor from the publisher does.)
F. I may also jot down notes on a pad at this stage if I need to verify something or do more research.
Once I've read and marked through the entire manuscript, checked through my notes and made sure I have everything I need in order to revise, I then:
G. Sit down at the computer, open the electronic file, and begin typing in my revisions.
H. Once that's finished, I spell-check, correct typos, and then print out a second, revised manuscript copy.
I. I perform one more complete read-through for missed typos, grammar blips and so forth with the changes I've made.
J. After the last pass, I correct any pages that need it, and then ship off the manuscript to the editor.
My approach to editing and revising is very precise and tailored to my writing schedule, which is often so tight you can bounce a quarter off it. It requires a lot of self-discipline to make it work. I do recommend giving it a try, though, because if you follow my methods you have a better chance of finishing your manscript versus being trapped in a three-chapter loop of writing, back-reading, editing, rewriting, back-reading, editing, etc.
IV. Still Crazy, Now What?
If you find you're reluctant to change even a single word in your story, you're either 1) the best damn writer in the world or 2) you've fallen in love with your manuscript. Chances are it's #2 and it's paralyzed your internal editor, who doesn't want to get between you and your sweetheart. My advice is to save a copy of the complete first draft, put it in a pretty box under your bed, and then get back to work.
Sometimes the problems in the manuscript befuddle you, and you're not sure how to handle them. When I get that feeling, I know I'm not editing at a professional, objective level. My own solution is to take a short break from the work and read one of my favorite novels by another author. I always go for the ones that I think are perfectly paced, superbly plotted or that contain something I admire, and they often change the way I perceive my own drafts (nothing makes your mistakes shine like beacons than reading a great book someone else wrote.)
The most frequent problem writers tell me they have with editing and revising is that their repair work makes the final draft of the manuscript read stilted, patchy or clunky. This is caused by trying to save too much of the original draft to avoid a big rewrite. I think your novel is worth some extra effort, don't you? So don't avoid the rewrite work.
Editing and revising are as important as writing, so you writers out there, don't ignore your internal editor. Just see that they do their job, and leave you alone while you're doing yours.
For a chance to win one of today's two Left Behind and Loving It goodie bags, in comments to this post ask a question or share your view on editing and revising, or just throw your name into the hat by midnight EST on Thursday, July 12, 2007. I will draw two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a tote filled with a signed copy of my novel If Angels Burn (paperback), as well as unsigned copies of Kiss Her Goodbye by Robert Gregory Browne (hardcover), Rahab's Story by Ann Burton (paperback), One Gentle Knight by Wayne Jordan (paperback), Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi (trade paperback), Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell (trade paperback),Abandon by Carla Neggers, the July 2007 issue of The Writer magazine, and some surprises. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.
Other editing and revising resources:
Self-Editing by Lori Handeland
Holly Lisle's One-Pass Manuscript Revision: From First Draft to Last in One Cycle
Editing Made Easy by Lee Masterson
Jane, Stop This Crazy Edit Machine by Tina Morgan
Painful Prose: How to Edit Your Paragraphs to Make Them Great
Other virtual workshops now in progress:
Joely Sue Burkhart's Do You Know the Secret?
Gabriele Campbell's How to Make a Battle Come Alive on the Page, Part 1
LJ Cohen's Organize your Novel with a WIKI
Rosina Lippi's Workshop Day 1: The Story Machine
Shiloh Walker's Heat with Heart Day 1, finding that missing emotion
Note on comments: We had a massive electrical storm here, and I was obliged to keep the computers shut down for most of the day and use my handheld for updates, which gets me into e-mail to moderate your comments but not into Blogger to respond to them. Weather permitting, I will catch up on answering your questions from VW#1 in the morning.