Friday, January 15, 2010

Slogging through more edits

By Heather Justesen

This month is Tristi's quarterly challenge month in which she challenges us all to set some writing goal (book in a month, edits, or anything else we choose) and then she posts her daily totals and cheers us on. I admit, I always set very high goals for myself--ones that are completely doable, if only I could get myself to stick to edits and not get distracted by other people's stories, email, Facebook and the like. Not so doable if I let myself get distracted.

This month my goal was all about edits. I have a book all but ready to submit, another I need to do a rewrite on before sending it to readers, and a third that needs one last proof before my editor gets to it for spring publication. This sounds like a lot, and I admit, I've found my book, "Blank Slate" needs more work than I originally thought. That coupled with distractions means there's no possibility I'll finish all three goals this month, but I know if I buckle down I could get close.

It funny how much I put off editing. When I'm in the middle of it, it's really not bad, and sometimes it even feels great--especially when I know the changes I'm making are really making a difference to the story. I started this edit with 256 pages of text, but after incorporating new scenes suggested in notes from several other writers (who are brilliant), it's now pushing 290--and I'm only on page 184 in my edits.

I seem to write all of my stories at about 300 pages, so I'm not concerned about that, but I do have a few minor scenes to add, and some that need to be fleshed out a bit more, which will lead to yet another edit (and I thought this would be the last one). The next one will be to cut stuff.

Knowing what to cut is an art I've really had to struggle with. In this case I probably won't be cutting scenes or whole storylines--I've got that pretty well established and it really looks pretty much the way it's going to be. My next pass will be to trim off the extra wordiness in my story. I tend to give a bit more backstory than necessary (at least in early versions). I say the same thing four times in a few chapters instead of just saying it once or twice with some lengthy space between. Also, it's amazing how many times you can take a long sentence and pare it back to a shorter one without loosing a bit of the meaning.

I listened to an episode of the Writing Excuses podcast a few months back where Brandon Sanderson talked about this very issue (sorry, I'm not sure which one it was, but it was probably in season three... but they are all well worth listening to). Essentially he said that setting a goal of how many words or pages you want to cut from your book (say 5 percent), and then going through and doing it line by line can be a great way to edit and tighten up your story so it flows better. My final edit for "The Ball's in Her Court" was a big trimming edit, thanks to a friend who pointed out all of the places where I was getting wordy, and my weekly critique group has helped point out spots where I'm too wordy too, so hopefully there won't be too many cuts in my future.

Yeah, whether I do that last edit or not probably won't affect whether my publisher chooses to print the book. It probably won't affect book sales greatly, but part of this writing thing is striving to produce a better book, to hone my craft more every day so that I can become the best writer possible. That means I don't have room for laziness. I have to keep working, and reworking until I either can't stand the book anymore, or I'm happy with it. That way when I send the final product into the editor I can do so with hopefully a tad less trepidation than I would otherwise.

Who am I kidding? I'll probably be a nervous wreck anyway.