I realize that the secret to a good blog is posting often, but circumstances at the moment dictate my writing time take a back seat to my children’s schooling requirements. I am writing from 9pm to 1am or so, and there is so much work to do with The Road Out that I simply cannot spare much time for blogging.
However, the holidays have started, so I have more time available for sitting in front of the keyboard right now.
So, I wanted to talk about what I have learned as regards editing. Not the mechanics per se, but the mental attitude that has to be donned to edit a book successfully. As you can discern by the title, the writer mindset does not get on well with the editing mentality.
The writer spends many an hour crafting a chapter to encapsulate beautiful prose. The creative juices flow and the poetic beauty dazzles the beholder. Then the editor enters the fray; cutting and slashing at the verbosity, demanding that the story be revealed and the reader not get tangled in the literary foliage.
Thus, self editing is a real challenge. Over the past few months, I have developed the technique of switching between mentalities. I look at the written page through two lenses, as it were. When in writing mode, say when I’m creating a re-write of a section, I let the creative side loose. I am unconcerned with composition and structure, totally focused on getting the characters working, the plot lines set out, the action sequences down. The movie is playing in my brain and I’m trying to write down what I see. Interrupting this process with editing is distracting and jars the mind, I find.
Once I have the section down, the editor takes over. I look for all the faults, usually over the course of several days. To facilitate this, I usually have five chapters on the go at once. Once I am fully satisfied with the earliest chapter, it gets fired off to Rob, and I bring the next one in at the other end.
By doing things this way, I have a broad spread of material that I can work through over many days, each chapter getting attention many times. This means the material gets a fresh set of eyes every night. One thing that amazes me is how much I still find, even after many passes.
The human mind is a deceptive instrument; it fails us with little to no warning, often with no sign of error. Experiments conducted in the past, using filmed events and eyewitness accounts, have proven the mind sees what it sees, but often doctors that information to suit other influencing factors.
Thus, we read over a chapter and fix a few things, and our mind says, “Awesome! That’s perfect, and you can send that one off tonight!”. Then we take another look the following night and can’t believe how much we missed. The trouble is, at the end of the night, our mind has had enough and doesn’t want to read the same stuff again tomorrow. It’s almost like it refuses to believe its missed anything and wants shot of the chapter before we find any more problems.
Of course, the writer and the editor have two different goals, don’t they? The writer wants the credit, they want the audience to see and hear them, acknowledge their efforts and shower them with praise. The editor wants the writer to sit down, shut up and stay out of the way so the readers can enjoy the story.
Rob reads about ten books a week. He tells me that of those ten, perhaps three were worth the time. Perhaps one was a genuine pleasure. The other seven? Well, all too often, the story was clouded over by the writing. The style was too jumbled, the dialogue was confusing, or there were so many typo’s and faulty structure that he didn’t even finish it.
It’s very rare that a writer can’t create a good story. The story is usually worth the telling, alright. The problem lies with the writer getting in the way of the story. Good writers are almost invisible to their readers.
The very best aren’t there at all.