Tuesday, July 29, 2008

VW#2: Eff the Editing

The winners of the VW#1 giveaway are:

BookWish: Robin Connelly

Goodie Bag: Nicole

Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com (Robin, please also let me know the title and author of your BookWish), and I'll get these prizes out to you.

Before I start today's workshop, two of our LB&LI workshop writers, Karen Duvall and Alison Kent, have very kindly made up some very cool graphics for use by other writers who are participating in LB&LI on their blogs. As they've given me permission to use them, I've posted them on Photobucket at the following links:

Karen Duvall: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh289/LynnViehl/LBLIGraphic.jpg

Alison Kent: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh289/LynnViehl/lbli.gif

I think Karen's graphic would be good for blogs with dark or black backgrounds, and Alison's graphic would be the same for blogs with light or white backgrounds. To post either graphic on your blog, use the HTML code < img src = " " > with the spaces removed and the URL of the graphic pasted in between the quotation marks.

And now -- let's workshop!

I. The Editing Dance of Doom

Aspiring novelist Jane Duoh has an amazing story idea. Maybe she's thought it through, or perhaps it just hit her like a thunderbolt. Doesn't matter. She's ready to make writing! She sits down to write what will surely this time be the One She Sells to NY.

Jane has great fun writing her first page, but backreads and notices it doesn't exactly start off with a bang, which she knows she needs to get an editor's attention, so she fixes that. Have to jump on these things right away so they don't kill the momentum, she thinks. Happily she finishes the first scene, but backreads again just to be sure it's topnotch writing. And it isn't, so she changes some things here and there, and backreads again to check her revisions, and makes a few more adjustments. But no problem, Jane is still having fun, and is now ready to write the next scene.

About halfway through scene two Jane gets the sense that the new stuff is not meshing with scene one, but she really needs it to lead into the car chase scene she has planned for Chapter Four, so she backreads and finds the trouble spots and makes those changes. Then, of course, she has to do a little retuning of the first scene to make it fit properly with the new material, and alters the beginning because that doesn't exactly fit now. Jane's not really having much fun anymore, not with all the work she has to do to fix her screw-ups, but after a few more backread-and-change, backread-and-change sessions, she's finally ready to continue work on scene two and get to that car chase scene, where she's sure everything will pick up nicely.

Only it doesn't. As Jane writes, she will repeat these steps a couple of dozen times, until around the middle of chapter three, she's no longer having any fun at all. She's exhausted. This, she thinks, was a stupid idea. Jane is so sick of rewriting that she doesn't even care about the car chase scene anymore. And if she looks at that opening line one more time she's going to hurl. All this work! Obviously her amazing idea wasn't all that great, and she's wasting her time trying to make it work.

At this point Jane is now primed for a distraction, and sure enough, another brighter, shinier idea will pop into her head, and she'll dump these hopeless, useless chapters and begin a new project with the new idea. And the cycle will start all over again.

I don't mean to kick Jane in the teeth. She's probably a good writer, works hard, and is at the keyboard every day of the week. She's likely got some great ideas, too. But if Jane doesn't make some serious changes, in a few years all she'll have to show for her pains is a nice, big collection of partial manuscripts she's never finished. Why? Because Jane is doing what I call the Editing Macarena. She can't finish anything because she's too busy standing in place and dancing the same three steps, over and over: backread, change, repeat.

II. Breaking the Cycle

I was at a New Year's Eve party the first time I saw a writer dance the Macarena (literally.) The demonstrator told me she had learned it on a vacation cruise. It was, quite possibly, the dumbest dance I've ever watched (and I've seen dumb; I grew up in the time when everyone was obsessed with mastering The Hustle.) It certainly popped right into my head the minute I searched for an analogy to the endless loop of editing doom that so many writers get stuck in.

Editing your work is a basic part of the writing process; one of the less pleasant tasks involved with creating a story that sells. I know a few writers who do very little editing of their work, and I've heard of those gifted wordsmiths who never need to edit and refuse to let anyone change so much as a punctuation mark. In the real world of Publishing, however, learning how to effectively and efficiently edit your work is just part of the job.

To be a professional writer, you have to present a product that is written at a professional level, and you will almost always have to re-edit that work when an editor requests revisions or a copy editor rips through the ms. It is in your best interests to learn how to avoid dancing the Editing Macarena and find a method of effective, efficient self-editing so that you can finish your stories. A finished ms. is one you can sell. You'll never sell just three chapters that have been edited to death.

III. The Five Effs of Effective/Efficient Editing

For this workshop, I came up with a five-step editing plan that I think can put an end to all the editing macarenas being danced out there. And in honor of how much we all love to edit, each step is represented by an eff word:

Find - Fix - Fine-tune - Follow up -- Finalize.

Here's how it works:

1. Find: With your favorite highlighter and editing pen, read through a workable section of the WIP that you've printed out on paper. Using your editing pen, circle any typos, grammar problems, punctuation mistakes or other technical blips. With your highlighter, highlight any word, sentence or paragraph that needs work. Do this through the entire section you're editing.

2. Fix: Pull up your WIP on your computer and go through the section you've edited, correcting all the technical errors you circled with your editing pen.

3. Fine-tune: Go back and read the highlighted sections of the WIP. One by one, decide what's wrong with them and handwrite in a revision or correction (if a large amount of text needs fine-tuning, you can do this on the computer ms. to save time.) Once you have all your rewrites written in on the paper copy, transfer them to your computer copy.

4. Follow-up: After you take a break from the ms., review the edited piece to make sure you've made the changes you want, spell check the piece, and then save.*

5. Finalize: When you've finished editing the entire story using the first four steps of this process, and have taken a break from it (I recommend at least 48 hours if possible), repeat the first four Fs, but this time do it for the entire manuscript.

Each of the first four steps is performed one time and one time only for the section of the story you are editing. Once this edit is done, you do not backread or change anything. You move on and write new material.

When you have edited the entire story, you then perform the fifth, Finalize step, but do this only once. Once you have completed all five steps, you are finished self-editing.

*If you've made changes that affect earlier portions of the WIP, you have two options.

1. If it's a simple fix, such as changing the name of a character from John to James, make the change by performing a search-and-replace on the entire WIP.

2. Larger changes that require reworking or rewriting should carried on as changed through the new material of the ms. but be noted on the page where you first change them, i.e. [from here Jessica has red hair and is an orphan from Albany instead of a brunette from Miami.] When you go to do your Finalize step and come across these notations in the ms., then go back over previous sections and make the necessary changes.

IV. But We Love to Dance the Macarena!

Some of you are sitting there reading this and thinking, "That's not nearly enough editing. She's nuts." You know that you need to edit your ms. over and over and over or it will turn out to be garbage because you write a crappy first draft, and a second, and a third, and a fortieth or whatever. Or you will have other excuses that explain why you have to take so much time. If there's one thing writers do very well, it's finding very good reasons not to write.

If you're still not convinced, consider the benefits of streamlining your editing process. Not only will it make you a more productive writer, but it will compell you to improve your drafts. If you know in advance you're only going to get two chances to edit whatever you write, you will naturally be more meticulous when you create that first draft. Think of it as anti-sloppiness training. Having that preset limit on the amount of times you can edit is also excellent practice for what happens when you're turn pro, because we only get about three shots at editing (during the revisions, copy-edit, and galley stages) before what we write ends up in print.

If you don't feel comfortable testing out my formula on a book-length project, try it for one scene or chapter and see if it cuts the amount of time you spend editing and still improves the WIP. If it does, try it for a larger portion of the story, and see what happens. I think you'll be surprised by what you can accomplish.

A couple of you still don't agree with me, I know. You need those extra two or three hundred editing passes, and you're going to keep dancing the editing macarena no matter what I tell you. That's not to say all hope is lost if you do. True story: I once sat next to a very respected literary author at a Publishing luncheon. Very Respected was a nice man and had a lot of inspirational things to say about our craft. I'd never heard of him or any of his books, but I liked his easy-going personality and his hair. For a guy writer, he had great hair.

When Very Respected got up to speak (he was also the GoH) he mentioned taking ten years to write his last book. As my jaw fell into my mystery chicken entree, Very Respected explained how carefully he wrote and edited and rewrote everything, and how much every single word meant to him. He was, without a doubt, the unacknowledged Master of the Editing Macarena.

I would have asked Very Respected more about what it's like to spend ten years writing a single novel, but he had to leave the luncheon immediately after his speech to go back to his non-publishing day job.

However you decide to edit your work, keep in mind the most important eff word in regard to any working writer's WIP: Finished.

Today's LB&LI giveaways are:

1) A stack of my favorite how-to writing books -- unsigned copies of:
Adair Lara's You Know You're a Writer When . . .
Joseph Campbell's Oriental Mythology ~ The Masks of God
Rich Frishman and Robyn Freedman Spizman's Author 101 ~ Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents
Lee Lofland's Police Procedure & Investigation
Dr. Eric Maisel's A Writer's Space
Richard R. Powell's Wabi Sabi for Writers
Todd A. Stone's Novelist's Boot Camp
Ralph L. Wahlstrom's The Tao of Writing
A signed-by-me copy of Philip Martin's The New Writers Handbook 2007 (I have an essay in this one) and a signed/ printed copy* of my own how-to e-book, Way of the Cheetah.

2) a goodie bag which will include unsigned copies of:
Death Angel by Linda Howard (hardcover)
Steal the Dragon by Patricia Briggs
Wild Hunt by Lori Devoti
Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione
In Danger by Alison Kent
The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu
Satisfaction Guaranteed by Charlene Teglia
Through the Veil by Shiloh Walker
plus signed copies of Evermore and Twilight Fall by Lynn Viehl as well as some other surprises.

If you'd like to win one of these two giveaways, comment on this workshop before midnight EST today, July 29, 2008. I will draw two names from everyone who participates and send one winner the goodie bag and the other the stack of my favorite writing books. Everyone who participates in the giveaways this week will also be automatically entered in my grand prize drawing on August 5, 2008 for a brand new AlphaSmart Neo. All LB&LI giveaways are open to anyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

*As this is an e-book, this copy will be printed out on standard bond paper and placed in a three-ring binder.

Other LB&LI Workshop Links (due to different time zones, some of these will go live later in the day)

Worldbuilding with a Wiki by Sandra Barret -- Architecting your world using a free wiki.

The Anatomy Of Sex Scenes by Jaci Burton -- Writing sex can sometimes be the most uncomfortable part of writing the book. But it doesn't have to be. A few key pointers that may help charge up your sex scenes and drag the writer out of their 'discomfort' zone.

Creating Great Beginnings - the Why and How by Sherryl Clark -- If your beginning works, the rest will follow. We're going to look at why it's crucial, what is the contract with the reader, Dos and Don'ts (and why/why not), story questions vs hooks, situating the reader, and writing backwards. I'll also invite readers to send in their first 200 words for feedback.

The Comparison--metaphor and simile by LJ Cohen -- a week of workshops using poetry and poetic techniques useful for novelists (tune in each day this week as LJ presents different poetic tools with examples of how to use them in your own writing.)

Gender Differences for Writers by Cheryl Corbin -- Male and female body language, speech and thinking differences.

Marketing on a Budget by Moondancer Drake -- How to make the most of marketing your book on a limited budget.

Writing Effective Description by Karen Duvall -- a week of workshops on how to write vivid description using all the senses, covering one for each day of the week.

WRITING PROCESS: Conceive, Develop, Write by Jamal W. Hankins -- An overview of my writing progress from story concept to actually writing a story.

The Voices in Your Head by Alison Kent -- When discussing "voice," where and how do character voices fit in?

Everyone has to Edit by Belinda Kroll -- Five steps to edit: putting the first draft away, being brutally honest, showing not telling, telling not showing, and focusing on those nitty gritty details.

Balancing Motherhood and Writing by Dawn Montgomery, Kim Knox, and Michelle Hasker -- How to write a 1000 words in the zen of toddler meltdowns. Motherhood is a full time job and holding a family together is only half the battle. How do you find *your* time to write without losing your mind?

Self-Editing by Emma Wayne Porter -- The things your editor secretly wishes you'd do before submitting, and how to survive Track Changes afterward. Checklists and Stupid Word Tricks included.

Not Going to Frisco Workshop by Joan Reeves aka Sling Words -- Writing Biz Reality

Cover Art: From Form to Finish by Mandy M. Roth -- Tips and tricks for filling out your cover art forms, the steps and stages a cover goes through, the finished product and a walkthrough on using your cover to make your own static banner ad.

Hey Fatty (Or Does Your Character Need That Flaw) by Amie Stuart -- I’ll be blogging about Characterization, flaws and motivation all week, using TV, movies, books and my own writing for examples.

Astronomy for Writers: Look to the Sky
by Suelder -- 1,000 Suns (and then some), The Birth of a Star: Star Fields, Binary Stars and Star Systems, Size Matters - How Stars are Classified, Size Matters, pt.2 - The Life and Death of a Star (the second in a five-part workshop series on basic astronomy and how to think about it from a writer's perspective.)

Begin with a business plan by Charlene Teglia -- the first in Charlene's workshops this week on the business of the business.

Short Stories & Novellas- Workshop Day I - Plotting by Shiloh Walker -- the first in a series on writing short stories & novellas.

VOICE: The Magic Behind The Words by Sasha White -- Advice to help you discover and strengthen your personal voice and style, and show you the way to the magic behind the words.
Workshop is in 5 sections. A new section each day this week.


  1. I missed commenting on yesterday's workshop, although I had started reading it early in the day, but between dr. appointments and football practice, and dinner with friends, I just now finished VW #1, and now #2.

    This one--#2 completely hit home for me. In the past, I never really finished editing unless I had a deadline. Awesome advice, coming at a good time. Thanks!

  2. This I have to try, though I reached the 'block' stage of limiting how much I edit in a day.

  3. Anonymous1:36 AM

    Been running around all day so I missed the first post, gonna go back and read it after I finish commenting.

    You know, Jane Douh sounds a lot like...er....a friend. yeah-that's right. *g*

    I really need to learn to tell my internal editor to sod off when I'm writing, she can be a real pain in the ass. Methinks I'll defiantly be giving your methods a try.

  4. A lot of great advice that I'll definitely put to use. And I have to say I loved the Editing Macarena part and how you described it.

  5. sigh. Okay, I admit it, I'm the Queen of the Editing Macarena. Everything from minor details to major plot points. . .hey, macarena! Will absolutely try this system on my present wip. Thanks for the tips!

  6. Great workshop!

    I used to get stuck in the editing macarena. And after the first few rounds, the edits I made started to get worse instead of better. I don't know if I will ever give up the "edit-while-you-write" habit entirely--I like having first drafts that read as close to final as I can make them, but I know this takes more time. These days, I limit myself to only revising the chapter before the chapter I'm working on.

  7. Anonymous2:19 AM

    I like that this can be used either once a whole draft is written or at the end of a section - as long as I remember I can only use it once per section!

  8. What you have written really makes sense to someone with a complete 157K book to edit, in which she has been drowning for months already.

    Facing this monster again, I need all the Effs there are...

    Please put my name in the hat again, too.

  9. A preset limit on edits?
    But then I'd wind up finishing more stories! Ack!

    Good advice, great post. ;)

  10. An excellent & very timely post. Thanks. :)

  11. Lynn-I think you were reading my mind. Non-stop editing is one reason why I've never finished a manuscript. In fact, your character might as well be me. I think I will try out your suggestion on the wip I'm working on right now. See if it helps me break out of the never-ending cycle of editing and getting into the nitty-gritty of actually writing a manuscript.

    I'd grovel at your feet if I could. THANK YOU! :)

  12. This could not have come at a better time, right where I am hitting a wall with my novel editing. Now I know that if I keep my eff's in a row, I will be able to finish it :)

  13. Argh! for poor Jane Doue.

    I generally copy edit yesterday's work but leave story edits until I finish the whole draft.

  14. Anonymous4:46 AM

    It's hard not to edit when you write, especially when you read back a couple of lines from yesterday, just to see where you were...

  15. Does anyone have a system for saving or keeping track of older edited versions? I think you would not bother if you were just fixing typoes or obvious errors, but if you changed or inserted large chunks of text you might think later of reverting to or reworking some previously discarded or altered text. How could you organise or store different versions?

  16. Ooooh, I love the editing part, especially the second draft. That's when the mess of words gets turned into something shiny and worth reading. It's when I have to stop that and create "new stuff" that I start to stall.

  17. This is fantastic. I have next week to myself. Peace and quite for eight days. Eight days to sit in the sun and self edit five MS's.

    I can't wait for tomorrow. Thanks again.

  18. I just love how you're simplifying things for us! The way you present things is so visual and I think that really helps us along in this fascinating process we call writing. For me, editing is one of those things that trips me up, so to have it put in such simple terms really helps. I think this advice will really help me to focus my efforts and streamline the process. Thanks so much for the great advice!

  19. Excellent advice! I'm not going to touch my first chapter again, no matter what. :)

    I haven't printed it out yet. Does everyone find this more helpful than editing on line?

  20. Anonymous7:03 AM

    Some great advice. I always end up over editing. Usually it makes my writing stronger, but not always. I'll have to try this method. :)

    Thanks for the workshop!

  21. Great advice. I never edit until I'm finished a book. I'm afraid if I do I'll never finish it. *g*

  22. *dancing the macarena - and despising it* This is such a timely blog for me. I've GOT to stop doing that backward reading thing. Thanks, Lynn!

  23. I'm so glad that I don't get caught up in the 'every word has to be perfect before I can move on.' I'm a big fan of the dirty draft, writing as fast as I can and getting the story out. But that now means that I have lots of completed first drafts and little editing has been done. I've decided from now until the next Nano, I will write nothing new, and will only be editing. Not sure if I'll be doing the Macarena - it might end up more like The Time Warp.

  24. Anonymous7:32 AM

    I like the eff method. ;)

    I have a three tier approach that requires four or five passes through the manuscript - BUT NEVER UNTIL IT'S FINISHED. That's the key. I reread the previous day's work and correct glaring typos when I start for the day, but only to get myself back into the story.

    The tiers for revisions are that I read and correct:
    Plot Holes
    The Magic - if the spark's not there, why? (This can also be called Voice, though I NEVER consciously think that.)
    The Narrative (here's where the major cutting is done. Some call this line-editing. I call it heck.)

    After all that is done, if I'm still not satisfied I do a second pass for Magic.

  25. Anonymous7:34 AM

    LOL. Finishing it IS the most important part. LOL.

    Great workshop! I love it. :)

  26. Anonymous7:45 AM

    "I really need to learn to tell my internal editor to sod off when I'm writing, she can be a real pain in the ass."

    I love it! I need to tell mine to sod off too.

    PBW- this is a great workshop. When I first started, I just wrote and wrote and wrote. Bang. Done. Then I went through and edited it. Everything flowed.

    Since then, after learning much about each of pub houses/ editors likes and dislikes, I find myself pulling a Jane. Stopping and trying to rework to make it "just the way I think they'll want it" and "to avoid common no nos on my part". (Yes, everyone feel free to slap me now. I know. I'm that stupid and deserve it.) I actually stepped away from it all for a bit to clear my head of doing this and I'm really excited to see you touching on it now.

  27. Wow-- that's exactly my situation. I just started a new ms last week, but even with the extensive plotting I've done I'm having trouble moving past those first 2000 words. Thanks for a great post.

  28. I've always loved crafts - anytime I get to work with markers - I love it. Feels like I'm actually producing :-). Great ideas. Thanks.

  29. I do the macarena, I admit it. I do finish books and stories, so I don't do it to a fatal degree, but I could be better. The problem is that "fixing" looks like work. It seems so productive, even when it isn't.

    I love "how to" write books. I have a shelf full, but the ones you mentioned in the goodie bags are almost all new to me. Ohhh, I sense a trip to the bookstore (But only AFTER this WIP is done.)

  30. Great post. I am enjoying all the great advice.

  31. Anonymous8:12 AM

    I'm a fan of heavier editing in the beginning, to find your voice -- as long as it doesn't degenerate into endless revisions of scene one.

  32. I have become quite the accomplished dancer myself, and have my own box of two hundred page manuscripts, simply due to the fact that I seem to like dancing more than writing. Your words however, have shown a light I intend to use. Thanks again.

  33. Anonymous8:41 AM

    SNORT! When I think about how often we did the macarena in high school and how many of those partials I wrote at that time. Great suggestions Lynn!

  34. Thanks for the great post. Non-stop editing isn't one of my problems, but speed is. I'm not going fast enough, but I have to be able to separate it into line edits and larger issues, or all I see is line edits. And I have to be able to write notes on what is the problem and how to fix it or I forget just due to time passing. I'm starting to get a better method though--and it's always helpful to read and adapt other's methods.


  35. I actually do a version of your five f's currently. :) It's working well. Although on my latest novel I've been tempted to macarena. (Love the analagy)

    I think I'd have a big problem if it took ten years to finish a novel. And I average a page a day.

  36. If there's one thing writers do very well, it's finding very good reasons not to write.

    Gospel truth, that.

    Excellent workshop!

  37. Thanks so much for doing this online workshop. SF was just too much to spend for me this time around. And my writing suffered from tons of school work for uni.

  38. Yes, great advice. I had a writing prof in college who advised not to stop writing until you've told the whole story so you don't lose momentum and so far, that plan is working for me. Right now I'm editing my WIP and using a method very similar to this and it makes editing a whole book do-able because of the smaller, more manageable sections.

  39. I know you're right. I do. But DOING it is another thing entirely. And I also know that when I do, I'll be a ble to produce that much faster, and easier. I guess the first step comes in admitting that the agnst feeds the ego.

  40. Ouch! I usually get stuck doing the editing macarena in my second draft. Probably because I don't do much of the first eff, and my first draft is not much more than a skeleton. Great post!


  41. Anonymous9:27 AM

    I am an over self editor - to the point that I end up hating a story I loved when I initially finished the ms. I will so use these techniques and hand off to my CP who also has these problems.
    I believe the technique will work since the novella I wrote & edited in six weeks is the first to at least make it to an aquiring editor. Thanks for the tips :-)
    Laurie K

  42. Anonymous9:28 AM

    Your editing Macarena sounds uncannily and unfortunately like my writing process. I'm still working on getting my inner editor to shut up so I can finish my first draft, so this workshop comes at a good time for me.

  43. Brilliant workshop, Lynn. I used to dance the editing macarena (btw, I hate that song, so it really drove the analogy home for me). The more I wrote, though, the less I was inclined to want to dance the dance. I think, for me, it had to do with my confidence level. The more I write and the more I learn about writing, the better my first drafts are.

    Thanks for the post. Definitely deserving of some link-love. =o)

  44. I was surprised that you didn't recommend leaving the editing until the entire piece is written. Go with the flow, as it were.

    I've got me fingers crossed. Very generous giveaways.

  45. Anonymous9:54 AM

    I was one of those people who started writing (seriously writing, not just random snippets and such) with NaNo, so I'm not quite as bad as some. My main issue is keeping the momentum up once past a certain point (it varies with each story). Although, there is one novel (Book of My Heart TM ;P ) that I've restarted twice now; however, that's mostly due to stopping for a while and then going back and realising I'd condensed good scenes into basically nothing, and a second because I finally figured the story out.

    Right now, I simply need to make time to write again. (Uni has taken over my life!)


  46. Thanks for this. I've not normally had problems with the temptation to endlessly edit, but as I'm struggling to get the first chapter of my WIP 'right,' this is a good reminder.

  47. Good advice. I had already noticed myself getting caught in an editing cycle. Now I just re-read the last bit of yesterday's scene to refresh my memory and try to keep moving forward.

    I find that I get caught fixing things when I go back to find a detail that has me hung up. I start out tweaking this and fixing that, and before I know it, thirty minutes have passed and I've forgotten the detail I was searching for. Maybe if I promise myself to this effing exercise, I won't get mired in the stuff. ;) We'll see.


  48. I don't know why but I tend to add typos to my MS in the revising part. I think I get so caught with the story my mind starts jumping to another scene or the later part of the one I'm working on. Very, very frustrating...

    To get out of being caught up in the story, I tried an experiment with pulling chapters randomly to edit. In some ways I really think it helped but I won't know for sure until I hear back from the others in my critique group.

  49. Have done that dance, and boy am I glad it's outdated. And I am not talking about the musical version!

    Great workshop, thanks!

  50. Anonymous10:14 AM

    The editing part of writing is the hardest for me. I'm never quite sure how to approach the process. Or I don't seem to have consistency in how I edit. I'm going to try this.


  51. Anonymous10:16 AM

    This is one of my biggest problems. I tend to read something I wrote the day before and suddenly I find myself spending an hour "fixing" it. I plan to make a conscious effort to avoid this for the next manuscript I work on, but its a hard habit to break.

  52. My one steadfast editing rule. . . no backreading until I have come to a logical stopping place. A chapter, a story, etc. Then I get one backread to fix minor problems and no more editing until the whole manuscript is done. I actually look forward to editing now that it is a forbidden fruit. :)


  53. Been there, done that, got the piles of paper to show for it. I did that for years and now I'm so sick of editing it pretty much broke the habit for me. I still think I'll try out your method though, because that part about how it could make you more meticulous with the first draft is interesting. I need to be more meticulous!

    Thanks for posting the John and Marcia template yesterday. Having an example to look at was helpful. And congrats to yesterday's winners.

  54. Anonymous10:29 AM

    Sounds like great advice.

    Please toss my name in the goodie hat since I'm not a writer.

  55. Wow! I am both left feet when it comes to dancing - even the Macarena (a dance and song I have come to hate over time)... But this is one dance I have down pat.

    Growing up I learned to be meticulous about writing for school and this has carried over into my writing today. Each word, each sentence, each paragraph had to be carefully crafted, honed and polished before anyone was allowed to read it. Now, before I let an outsider – including a crit partner – read a chapter of my current WIP, I go through the same process repeatedly. Ouch!

    At any given time, 2,000 neurons are firing in our conscious brains. At the same time, about 4 billion neurons are firing in our unconscious brains. This is why old habits are so hard to break – we do them unconsciously with the part of our brain that never forgets anything.

    This is why awareness is the first step to changing. If we can stop the old patterns, we can create new patterns that will replace the age-old autopilots we’ve been operating on all of our lives.

    Must run – I am off to iTunes to purchase the song the Macarena. I want to rig it up so I can hit a button and play it every time I start editing. If that isn’t motivation to stop the pattern, I don’t know what is!

    Thanks, Lynn! Awesome lesson!


  56. Many would be writers never get their books written because they can't stop doing the "Editing Macarena!" Thank you for a way out of this deadening cycle.

  57. Anonymous10:51 AM

    Of course, what you've left out -- because you've assumed it already exists -- is a basic grasp of grammar and editing and vocabulary. Without the basics, I don't believe ANYONE can streamline the editing process as much as you've described it here.

    IOW, pro writers already write at least competent prose, even in rough draft. Getting to at least competent prose is the first step.

    My $.02, fwiw.

  58. Anonymous10:59 AM

    Still working on yesterday's re-wiring project. When that's done, this...

    Lots to do.

  59. loved how your worked in that he was not self supported with his writing. I proof for an author and to me it makes sense cause she knows what she wanted to say and sometimes what she reads she'll translate it in her head but it will still be wrong in her manuscript. I know when I proof my own stuff that it what I do at times. I love that goody bag you have some nice books in there.

  60. Thank you so much for this workshop and for all your advice on editing. In the last year I stopped my constant rewrites on chapters so I don't bog myself down from finishing the story, but I wasn't too sure how to do the actual editing. This helped enormously.

    Thank you!

  61. Hey thanks for all the helpful websites and tips I really appreciate you doing this!

  62. Thank you for posting about editing! I'm trying to break my own Editing Macarena cycle and was wondering just how to do that. Thank you!

  63. Just found this blog this morning. A great alternative to RWA in SF! And lots cheaper, too! Thanks for sharing. I will be back to read more.

  64. Editing can be trying for me. I try not to over edit, but it can be tempting sometimes. I think the Eff the Editing method might work for me. Thanks!

  65. (Since I won the LB&LI#1 goodie bag - thanks! - please don't enter me in this contest.)

    I love the idea of doing edits this quickly, and I have been collecting ideas from you and Holly Lisle on how to do such a streamlined editing process. Thanks for the tips!

  66. Anonymous11:34 AM

    I've just found this blog today (I'm reading it on a feed at livejournal) and it's already giving me courage to write again. I think I'm going to print the workshops out and carry them around with me to my various writing spots (the bench by the pond is really nice at sunset if you don't mind the midges, but for pete's sake don't drop the laptop in the water--!)

    Also, I'm crossing my fingers for the goodie-bags and whatnot.

  67. The only way I seem to keep myself from editing my first draft to death is by writing it longhand in a notebook. (It shuts up my compulsive internal editor.)

  68. Anonymous11:49 AM

    Editing Macarena...I love that!

    I'm one and out. I write the book, I edit the book, and I'm done. I'm going to get that sucker 3 more times during the revision process, so it's not like I'll never see it again. It's all about training yourself to let go.

    Great topic!

  69. I missed commenting yesterday, too. I'm not missing out today!

    Thank you for holding these workshops. They really help.

  70. Another great workshop.

  71. The best line: "If there's one thing writers do very well, it's finding very good reasons not to write."
    Second best line: "...but he had to leave the luncheon immediately after his speech to go back to his non-publishing day job."
    Oh, yeah. I do find excuses to not write for sure - but I don't want to be a writer who has to have a day job!
    Thanks for another great post.

  72. Anonymous1:05 PM

    Hmm, I don't quite dance the macarena, but I might be close. I'm definitely going to give this a whirl next time! Thanks!


  73. I sooo needed this. Thank you.

  74. I'm familiar with that dance. :) When it comes to the editing process, the mental roadblock I've typically struggled against is the idea that with every edit cycle, I'm improving my manuscript, moving it that much closer to RIGHT--to being PERFECT--so getting it closer to perfect is obviously the best thing I can do for it. But, like you said in the workshop, the most important word is "Finished." So I have a post-it note stuck over my desk that says, "It will never be perfect. It can only be finished." While it sounds like sort of a downer of a mantra, it's actually helped me pass through the edit cycle with a lot less stress and a lot more optimism.

  75. So far, I'm loving this workshop-- which comes when I'm on vacation and have the time to write and read. More importantly, today's comments are right on target. Especially since the story I originally considered doing has shifted. I've been printing the tips to make sure I keep them in mind.

    Thanks for doing this, Liz. Really, it's fantastic.

  76. Anonymous1:16 PM

    Great ideas on ways to not stimy oneself. Your writing book giveaway has me writing down titles to look up and review.

    To Ixz - FWIW I save my WIP by scenes (scene 1 is one file, scene 2 a different etc) and have them stored in the computer under file folders Act 1, 2, 3. When I make a substantial change to a scene I save it as a new file so in my Act 1 folder I might have files: Scene 1 take 1 and Scene 1 take 2. In the actual scene file, I use headers to write the scene number and take (i.e., version) so I don't get confused when looking at printed copies. This is how I keep track of earlier versions so I don't lose anything on the WIP [I never know when I might change your mind]. There is probably a better way though. Hope the above makes sense!


  77. These workshops are great. This is really a wonderful thing to do for writers. It is very generous.

    Thank you!

  78. Thanks for a great post. Who knew so many of us suffered from the same problem? We could get Macarena line dance going long enough to be an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.VBG. Lots of great responses with more great advice, too. I'll be testing this out today. :)

  79. I'd always thought of myself as a skipping record, dancing-even if it is the Macarena-sounds more graceful. ;)

  80. I am so impressed by the generosity shown by you and your workshop colleagues. So much information and advice!

  81. Anonymous2:23 PM

    This was really useful! I am about to start editing a short i wrote and had no idea i was about to walk into dancing terratory!

  82. Anonymous2:28 PM

    This reminds me of one of my favorite parts of Way of the Cheetah. I remember thinking about it as loosely equivalent to the directions on most shampoo bottles advising us to lather, rinse, and repeat. (How pointless and wasteful!)

    Of course, I can’t help but wonder about Very Respected’s coiffing routine.

  83. I agree completely with this workshop - in fact, I go even further. Depending on your schedule (if you're working full-time, part-time, writing full-time, family obligations, etc.) it shouldn't take you longer than (fill in the blank - 3 months, 6 months, a year) to write your first draft.

    So almost all that time needs to be writing and not re-writing.

    And you're absolutely right - knowing you don't have time to edit and edit and edit makes your first drafts better.


  84. Ha! I was in a Christmas play in high school many years ago where we thought incorporating the Macarena into a CHRISTMAS play was a FABULOUS idea! (What can I say? The Macarena was popular back then and we were young and dumb). And that is why my parents have me on video playing the Macarena. And they show it EVERY Christmas.

    Anyhow, I like your advice on avoiding the editing Macarena. I tend to be an extensive plotter because I HATE editing.

  85. Anonymous2:49 PM

    Wonderful workshop - thanks for your hard work!

  86. I'm the queen of over editing.

    Love this workshop.

  87. Anonymous2:56 PM

    By the time I was done editing my own and only finished novel, I was heartily sick of it. Because I was over-editing? Maybe.

    I'll try this next time - at least in sections.

  88. Good workshop on editing.

  89. Anonymous3:03 PM

    Oh thank goodness. I am not the 'write a book for 10 years type' so this is nice to read.

    I am still learning to commit to the "shitty first draft" in order to get on with things (if there's one thing that infamous November writing exercise taught me, it was to lock the internal editor away for a few weeks which results in a suprising amount of writing.

    This sounds like a good compromise, where you take a chunk, get at the bits that are really bugging you, and continue writing.

  90. Thank you, Thank you, thank you!

  91. Congrats to the winners! You came up with some great analogies in your posts. This is some great advice.

  92. Anonymous3:40 PM

    I try really hard not to edit anything I'm working on until I get 50+ pages written. Otherwise I can sit and dissect a paragraph or page to death!

  93. Anonymous3:56 PM

    Longtime lurker here who's been trying to get up the guts to comment. Thank you so much for the blog, and for this post. I totally do the editing macarena (ack) and this will reeeeealy help me. Thank you!

  94. Anonymous4:02 PM

    Wow, this is such great information. I have never edited on paper before, and I'm definitely going to give your "Eff's" a try. I think it might cut down on my OCD-ness of editing...Thanks for great advice!

  95. Wow, today's workshop and links are a week's worth of reading and thinking! Great stuff.

  96. THANK YOU. I'm so ready to stop dancing the editing macarena. And now I know how!

  97. Anonymous4:31 PM

    This advice is spot-on! I'm going to incorporate your "eff" words into my editing process. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.

  98. I've done this dance many times. I finally broke myself of the habit by writing each scene in a new Word doc. When I finished writing a scene, I would copy/paste it into a doc with the whole manuscript. Once the scene went into that file, I didn't make any changes to it. That's how I finished the first draft of my first novel.


  99. My day job is . . . editing . . . so this is a trap I can fall into pretty easily (so much harder to fill the pot than to stir it!).

    But I'd like to throw in a vote for saving the editing until you've got a finished manuscript. No reason to spend a lot of time polishing a scene or a paragraph or a sentence that you're going to jettison in the end because it don't fit in the larger structure or pace.

    And one tactic: instead of re-reading any of yesterday's work to get back in the groove, when I am finishing for the day I write a few outliny sentences to get me started tomorrow. Those will be erased when I start the next session, but that's what I use to launch instead of the temptation of reworking the last day's material.

  100. Thanks for the advice Lynn.

  101. It's easy to second guess yourself.

  102. This is a perfect rendition of my first several years writing my first manuscript. I think it took me six months to finish the first chapter. I finally broke out of that with my current novel by creating a numbered outline and writing each scene as a separate Word document. Once I finish the first draft of a scene, it gets saved and I don't look at again until I have written all of the other scenes and I begin the second draft. That has kept me plugging along and it has been very liberating. Great post!

  103. Anonymous5:11 PM

    Thank you! You nailed my problem with a quick and hey wake up diagnosis.

    Loving Left behind and Loving It. It's a must read throughout the year.

  104. I'm somewhere between someone who obsesses over constantly editing/fixing things as she goes and someone who is generally content with what she's written, as written, so long as there aren't any glaring mistakes.

    ...of course this depends on my mood, and I say this as someone who has yet to finish anything of length. Oi.

  105. Anonymous6:01 PM

    Thank you so much for hosting this event. I've learned a lot from the various workshops aleady. So much to read.

    Anna M.

  106. Thanks for this post today. I don't quite do the 'macarena' but I do need to spend less time micro-managing the editing process.

    Will try this.

  107. You are so right. I've danced the writing Macarena more times than I care to admit. Great post.

  108. Anonymous6:38 PM

    Don't keep going backckckckckcckckck and fixing.

    Great lesson Lynn.
    Now if I can just get that Macarena music out of my head.

  109. Great post. Thank you for doing this again.
    I must admit I do go back at certain points, but it's either to get back into the story after I've been away for a while or if I've run into a snag in the plot and need to go back and fix it before I can go on. I prefer to think of it as more of a tango (fortunately one you don't have to watch). :)
    And congrats to the winners.

  110. Hmm, interesting. I am one of those people who goes back and edits that way as I write, although I set limits--if something's not working after two back-reads, I make a note and set it aside for later, when I have fresh eyes. At the end I do something similar to your process, but I like the idea of streamlining. Thanks!

  111. That's me. I never thought about it that way, but that's me.


    I have to get off the dance floor.

  112. Anonymous7:59 PM

    love the analogy! I don't have that upfront edit-while-you-write problem, but I get stuck in inefficient edit cycles after the writing's done!

  113. I have to admit it scares the effluent out of me to consider editing only thrice,which means I'd better have my outline in good shape before I even begin. That's my kneejerk reaction. I'll be processing and practicing this one for awhile.

  114. Anonymous8:46 PM

    Ow! I'm looking in the virtual mirror.

    I've got a question: when do you let yourself stop and make those edits? Do you do it by chapter, by major actions or only at the end?

    I so needed to read today's post. No wonder my first novel read so stiltedly. "Hey, Macarena!"

  115. Anonymous9:02 PM

    "If there's one thing writers do very well, it's finding very good reasons not to write."

    That is the best quote I've read in a long time.

    But it doesn't describe me. Really. Not at all.

  116. Eek. Running a bit late on the workshops today - this was a good one, and I think "reassuring." Get it done, get it right, and let it go. And - as a total aside... :X I checked youtube, and I have to say, while the Hustle isn't all that awe inspiring, it is *much* better than the Macarena. [Which I've always thought is the uber dumbed down version of the line dance for "Personal Jesus"...] But that's off topic.

  117. Great post and wonderful advice...now I must force myself to follow it!! :D


  118. Hm, also, odd - the comment I made yesterday never showed up. It was much like the other ones, now that I read through them, and I "seconded" some of what Tammy said. :\ Ah well.

  119. Anonymous9:32 PM


    I loved the fact of setting an end point on revisions/edits. I have the habit of overdoing it until I'm too tired. Breaking it down into smaller pieces & reminding myself that I only have so many chances so do it right the 1st time.

    Thank you,
    Susan B.

  120. Anonymous9:49 PM

    This editing process makes a lot of sense. I've been doing the fast first draft just to get a manuscript finished. But that means there is a lot more editing to do to clean up that draft. Perhaps it is more about striking a balance between the two - a moderately swift first draft (so that I don't lose interest by the time I've hit chapter 3), but with more consideration of the words used so that less editing is required at the end.

    Something new to try!

  121. Anonymous9:53 PM

    Kathy Crouch here:-)
    I see what you are saying about how to get bogged down in edits. I did this to myself. I posted what I wrote to the critique group and screwed it up trying to fix it. I confused myself as I tried to fix it on the computer. Wound up with duplicate paragraphs wehre I moved it and didn't delete it.

  122. Anonymous10:19 PM

    I love these writing posts and learn alot everytime.

    Definately count me in the contest (love both prizes).


    Terri W.

  123. I have to admit I am one who tends to LOVE the Macarena. I'll write for a day and edit for a day and repeat the process until even I am tempted to admit I'm shooting myself in the foot. I'm glad I'm not the only one trapped in the dance! It always seems so easy to tell myself not to do it, but when I go to write, it is almost like I have to edit before anything I add to the work is any good.
    Helen Rudd

  124. Great advice, Lynne.

    I actually prefer editing to the dreaded first draft writing.


  125. Thank you, I needed that! I have fallen victim to the Editing Macarena. I know it’s a bad habit but I seem to find myself saying “I’ll just fix this one little thing…”

  126. Anonymous10:55 PM

    When you put it like that, editing doesn't sound quite as bad as scaling the Alps - heck, I may even give it a whirl this weekend.

    This is the first time I've participated in something like this and there is so much good advice, I'll still be chomping on it come this fall!

    Thanks for all your hard work.

    ~ Mrs. Morticia ~

  127. Thanks again for all your tips! My WIP doesn't stand a chance of not getting Finished now!


  128. Anonymous11:53 PM

    As an expert at doing the Macarena, this made a lot of sense, but I'm not sure if I can stop the dance.

    The hardest thing I've ever done was try to "just write".

  129. Ha! I'm great at editing. It's the first draft and plotting that stabs me in the heart.

  130. lxz wrote: Does anyone have a system for saving or keeping track of older edited versions? I think you would not bother if you were just fixing typoes or obvious errors, but if you changed or inserted large chunks of text you might think later of reverting to or reworking some previously discarded or altered text. How could you organise or store different versions?

    I save my work every day in two separate files: the first draft of my new material, and the revised version that I edit that evening (I keep the first draft saved without changes in case I deleted something and need to go back and look at it or restore part of it.)

    I code the file names, too. Today's work will be saved as TJ-3C (Title/chapter/scene) and TJ-3CR for the finished edited version.

  131. Gillian wrote: I haven't printed it out yet. Does everyone find this more helpful than editing on line?

    I print out my drafts because I tend to catch more mistakes on paper than I do looking at a screen version. Also, it gives me a break from the computer, so I can sit on the porch with it and get a little fresh air. :)

  132. Eva wrote: I guess the first step comes in admitting that the agnst feeds the ego.

    It's tough to get off the dance floor and move to a new place with the work. I know, I've been there, too. At one time I thought doing more editing would make me a better writer, and I let this one crit partner I had talk me into revising something seven times (this is not my process at all, but I thought, hey, maybe I'm wrong just doing two passes.) The crit partner was never satisfied, though, and would have had me revise the piece another seventy thousand times. That was when I realized she hadn't finished any of her manuscripts for the last couple of years, and I was buying into her writing problem.

  133. Rob wrote: I think I tend to do the editing Macarena during the prewriting phase. I start developing notes on a project, go back and change something, tweak this plot point then the other, rework a character, change settings a hundred times, and finally decide there is no way this story will work and throw it all in the recycle bin.

    I've been there, too. It's kind of like having a crush on someone when you're a teenager -- you have all that longing inside and you want to do something about it, and you write their name on your notebook ten thousand times, hang a copy of their year book photo next to your bed, rehearse clever ways you can introduce yourself in the bathroom mirror, etc. But then when you get to the point of having to do something about it like actually talking to them, instead you avoid them or even talk yourself out of liking them.

    Thing is, I hate doing major revisions to a novel, so I try to get as much right before starting. I think I may have gone too far in that direction though and am having a hell of a time regaining my balance.

    All the preparations you're making may be what's keeping you at the starting gate. I don't often recommend writing by the seat of your pants, but that may be a good exercise for you. Try writing a couple of short stories or chapters without any prep work at all. Just take an idea and run with it. And give yourself permission to write them badly, just for yourself. Then, once you have a couple things completed, go back and edit the first (no matter how much you hate it, revising is something you need to practice, too.)

    Maybe this isn't the Editing Macarena. Maybe it's the Prewriting Chicken Dance. Or the Planning Hokey Pokey.

    The Planning Hokey Pokey. Definitely. :)

  134. Peggy wrote: Of course, what you've left out -- because you've assumed it already exists -- is a basic grasp of grammar and editing and vocabulary. Without the basics, I don't believe ANYONE can streamline the editing process as much as you've described it here.

    Agreed. But for those of us who have little or no formal education as writers, and who played hooky from English class as often as we could get away with it, learning these things comes along with the writing.

    IOW, pro writers already write at least competent prose, even in rough draft. Getting to at least competent prose is the first step.

    That's a journey that we all have to take, and keep taking. I know I'll never be satisfied with the quality of my writing, so I try to learn from other writers when I read. I look at the way they structure things, and how they use words, and compare it to my own style. I can actually see the weaknesses and holes in my stories better after reading something by an author who resonates with me.

    My $.02, fwiw.

    Sense in any amount is always welcome here. :)

  135. Shawn wrote: Of course, I can’t help but wonder about Very Respected’s coiffing routine.

    He was a beautiful man, I must say. And the hair, wow. At the time I was so tempted to touch it and see if it was as soft and shiny as it looked, or just a really great wig. ;)

  136. Timer wrote: Longtime lurker here who's been trying to get up the guts to comment. Thank you so much for the blog, and for this post. I totally do the editing macarena (ack) and this will reeeeealy help me.

    Timer, lurkers are always welcome here. I hope it does help -- and thanks for commenting.

  137. youpsy wrote: But I'd like to throw in a vote for saving the editing until you've got a finished manuscript. No reason to spend a lot of time polishing a scene or a paragraph or a sentence that you're going to jettison in the end because it don't fit in the larger structure or pace.

    Excellent point.

    And one tactic: instead of re-reading any of yesterday's work to get back in the groove, when I am finishing for the day I write a few outliny sentences to get me started tomorrow. Those will be erased when I start the next session, but that's what I use to launch instead of the temptation of reworking the last day's material.

    That's a great idea. Now we know why you're a professional. :)

  138. loupnoir wrote: I've got a question: when do you let yourself stop and make those edits? Do you do it by chapter, by major actions or only at the end?

    I write new material in the morning and then edit only what I wrote that day in the evening. Having a couple of hours break from the writing helps me get a little distance from it (which is nearly impossible for me to do when I'm in writer-mode) and I can shift gears and look at the piece more objectively.

  139. partly wrote: The hardest thing I've ever done was try to "just write".

    Same here. ;)

  140. Comments for this workshop are now closed and the giveaways have been awarded. If you have any questions regarding this workshop, please stop by my open Q&A here at PBW on Tuesday, August 4, 2008.