Seriously, I Wrote That?

Yes, it's me, editing Adamantine. I am not sure I have met anyone who particularly liked editing. Having flogged yourself for months, sometimes even years, to cross the finish line and hold up the completed product of a manuscript...you have to go back and edit it? The whole thing? All of it? Really?

Well, of course you do. No work is perfect on the first run-through, and it goes without saying that any story will need plenty of polishing, sometimes even a bit of demolition and reconstruction. Adamantine is needing a good bit of both. Depending on the size of the story and the length of time you spent working on it, the daunting aspect of editing will vary. Flexing its muscles in the vicinity of 213,000 words, Adamantine is a bit daunting - especially since the first half of it is, in my own words, "lame rubbish!"

"Lame rubbish" is probably something every writer discovers has snuck in his manuscript when his back was turned. Now, everyone assures me, "It's not lame rubbish. It's fine! I liked it!" Ye-es, well...I don't. And that's what matters. Lame rubbish has got to be dwelt with. Soon. When I make another cup of tea. Tomorrow. When it's sunny. After I've thought about it for a while. These are all my excuses that I have used and a few that I have on reserve just in case I need them. Unfortunately, I can't afford to use excuses, and that lame rubbish of Adamantine's first half has got to be dwelt with.

"So, Jenny, why are you making a post about it?"

Yeah, well, you got me there. Chiefly because I know we all make lame rubbish, and unless we are very driven and angelic people (like Abigail), that lame rubbish will crouch like a fat hairy spider on the periphery of our awareness and grow and grow until it blots out all the good bits in the story we have written, and until our most feeble desires to edit sputters out like a candle in a gale. So lame rubbish happens. It happens to everyone. Take a deep breath, throw out your chest, and grab your red pen (or blue - mine happens to be blue). That lame rubbish dragon isn't going to slay itself for you.

Fairytales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
~ G.K. Chesterton

Grammar. If you're anything like me (and I do apologize if you are), you will be so wrapped up in what you are writing that you just rush on through without hesitation, murdering the English laws of grammar as you pass by. I'm not really in the habit of murder, but on reflection I have unearthed some rather hideous and occasionally embarrassing mistakes which I made in my haste to write out a section. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Unless you are Abigail, you can't keep track of everything at once, and sometimes spelling and grammar have to be put on the back burner while you pound out the plot, and then you can come back to it later.

English professors, please don't kill me.

And yes, you will probably run into some embarrassments. I committed the heinous crime of using the same word twice, quite close together in a paragraph, to describe two completely different things. I was mortified. I'm still getting over it. But it happens, and it has to be fixed, so put a bold face on it and don't worry. You're definitely not alone.

Where do I start? Well, that's really up to you. I like to tell myself that I edited the second half of Adamantine first because I wanted to really cement in my mind the way the characters and circumstances culminated, and to immerse myself still further in their final developments. Truthfully, I just like the second half better and I always save the worst for last. Julie Andrews will of course assure you that the beginning is the best place to start. But I do think that at least perusing the culminating chapters and fixing them in your mind will help you adjust the beginning ones. If you're a foreshadowing sort of person, this will definitely help. And even if you are not, knowing what your characters become in the end will help you smooth out the developmental paths in the story for the reader to follow. You know how your characters got to where they are in the end, but make sure the reader can follow that clearly. It's amazing the disconnect there can be between the author's mind and the reader's. Ho hum.

  • If you start at the end be sure to keep your whole story balanced. The end of your story should have much more developed characters, much more gravity, much more importance than the beginning because everything should be unfolding, and all the questions should be answered (unless you are writing a series). With all the finality of "It's done," the end of the story has the potential to seriously outweigh the beginning of the story. In terms of development and plot, this is as it should be. In terms of style and interest, this should not be. The beginning, in creating all the questions, should be just as interesting as the end which answers all the questions.
  • If you start at the beginning keep the end in mind. As you edit, remember what you are working toward. Your first draft will undoubtedly be rough with lots of unexpected plot-twists that need to be rounded off or cut out altogether because you were not sure where you were headed on the first pass through. On an editing run, you should be able to keep in mind what the goals are and how your characters reached it, and you will be able to smooth their story out toward that goal as you go along picking up stray commas and hacking out stilted dialogue. Also, don't get discouraged by those stray commas and stilted dialogue. On your first pass through writing, you didn't really know where you were going or how you were going to get there. Wrong turns, jerky driving, it happens when you are all but lost on the road to plotdom.
In summation: don't let either the grandeur of your ending or the aimlessness of your beginning go to your head. Both are perfectly reasonable to find at the completion of a first draft, and it doesn't mean that you are an awful writer.

My beginning and my end are lame rubbish. Well, Tolkien started The Fellowship of the Ring three times, at least. That's all I can say. If you love your story that much, keep trying. You may be a world-famous author and have your story turned in a film one day. A touch of blind "I h'am teh greatest" as you write may carry you far and hold off the wave of despair if you have someone to hold you down on earth and tell you where your dialogue is stilted and your commas go awry.

Practice makes perfect. As with any art, writing takes work, and work often means uncomfortableness and sweat. Editing isn't usually the most exciting of tasks, but it's another necessary step in getting your prized story to the perfect level. On every pass you will straighten out another kink. Don't be overwhelmed by the sheer number of them (if you're like me); keep in mind all the ones you have already straightened out. As Marthe pointed out, when you're building a sandcastle and it begins to crumble, you reach out to catch it. And all you think about is what you lost, not what you managed to save. Well, in this case, the sandcastle isn't going anywhere, and you are only improving on it more and more. Keep that in mind, and keep pushing yourself. When all is said and done, you'll be glad you did.

Don't take Prospero's approach and drown your book fathoms down, whatever you do.

1 ripostes

  1. This excellent post is too early for me. When the time comes, however, I shall revisit it and ... weep, possibly. It's going to hurt to carve up my most precious brainchild.

    I like how you address the purely practical matters of imperfect first drafts, despair, and the importance of balance. Your bit of advice at the end, too, is priceless. ^.^

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