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on editing. what is too much, when is the narrative's soul killed?
Charl F king
Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 8:01 AM
Joined: 11/20/2011
Posts: 24

As an editor, I find myself going over my manuscript until I want to scream. I scrutinize every paragraph, sentence, phrase and word, thinking it must be possible to improve something. I think after the 300th edit maybe I should give it up, I'm killing my narrative's soul. Or maybe it's the fear of putting it out there with lousy writing. So what is enough editing? let's face it, every writer can improve, but what is the trade off? A flat gray story without a personality.
Then, of course, there is the little Typo Gremlin. Where the hell do those little sods come from? I can almost guarantee that one can go through 120 000 words and there will be typos.
Am I the only idiot that does this to themselves?
Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 8:47 AM
I completely understand the feeling, Charlotte! I too am a vicious self-editor and it makes it very difficult for me to write anything of my own.

I think it's a completely natural thing though, especially if you have editorial experience working with other people's work. It uses a very different part of the brain than crafting a story from the ground up.

I think when you have this issue and are writing, the most important thing is to find a way to either shut off or just ignore those editorial voices. Don't let yourself go back. Don't let yourself dissect sentence after sentence. Power through your first draft and then you can go back through--after you've walked away from it for a while and perhaps given some objective readers the chance to weigh in first. We certainly can be our own worst critics!

But once you start the revision process, you're right, there is definitely a valid fear of over-editing. And unfortunately, there's no trick that I've found. It's a matter of determining where the voice of the story lies, what makes it special and powerful and compelling, and working hard to maintain those pieces while fixing the ones that need improvement. It's knowing your story and its true soul.

The Typo Gremlin I wouldn't worry too much about though! That's an easy fix when you're through revising and certainly won't kill your narrative. =)

Charl F king
Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 11:38 PM
Joined: 11/20/2011
Posts: 24

LOL I know the Typo Gremlin won't kill a narrative, but I want to know how they just seem to happen. I was about to send my MS off to a publisher (first 3 chapters) and saw the most innocuous error on the first page! That caused me to doubt the rest of the MS and I put on my hiking boots and slogged through the thing for the 300th time.
I know that if I look at an MS synopsis or just the first page, and find a typo, I immediately have warning bells going and become editor-super-sleuth. If the narrative happens to be good, then it's like seeing a well dressed woman with a ladder in her stocking.
I definitely believe in editing until one has it as polished as possible, then shelving it for a few months before going back. 
Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Thursday, November 24, 2011 9:00 AM
Ahhh gotcha. Yes, that always seems to happen! The best way to counteract it, I think, is to have someone else review/proofread the work with a very careful eye. You know the material too well at this point to catch everything--your brain knows exactly what to read before you get there so it's a lot tougher to catch!

Also, not sure if you do this, but I find reviewing in hardcopy super helpful =) computer screens do something weird to our eyes!

Jeff Reid
Posted: Saturday, November 26, 2011 12:49 AM
Joined: 11/21/2011
Posts: 2

...reviewing in hardcopy super helpful =) computer screens do something weird to our eyes!

Hah-- I thought that was just me! What is that? I can go over and over something I wrote on-screen, but can't spot the silliest "am" instead of "an" until reading on paper.

I learned copy-editing in journalism, so maybe I'm just defaulting to the angry ball-point marks, but I also find it helps do the job itself.

On paper, I actually read it, instead of continue writing it... To me, its like tasting the sauce on the pasta instead of out of the pot with the seasoning bottle still in-hand.

Power through your first draft and then you can go back through...

Thanks for that note... I remember writing like that, but along the way became preoccupied with getting that perfect sentence. (I end up losing hours G.B.Shaw-ing the order of seven silly words instead of telling the story that is backing up in my head.)
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Sunday, November 27, 2011 1:00 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

I have been accused multiple times of overworking my drawings and paintings when I used to be an art student. I wanted it to be perfect  instead of putting it aside when I should have. I had to remember that art is never finished, it is just abandoned. Then I moved on to writing, something I had been doing since I could hold a crayon, and found that the same rules apply. I had to be willing to let my story go and let others see it. So now I have a three revision rule before I put it up on here, or give it to someone I know, to look it over. I'm still scared to send my stuff out because I don't think its ready, but I'm taking my first step. I'm letting my mom read my novel for her Christmas gift. (It makes me nauseous just thinking about it.)
Charl F king
Posted: Monday, November 28, 2011 11:23 AM
Joined: 11/20/2011
Posts: 24

LOL I'm the queen of overworking my art--I'm a wildlife artist. Seems I'm no different with my books--sigh. And, yes, Danielle, I certainly do get my fellow editors to read my final drafts. I even rope in my long suffering daughters. I just want one or two of you guys to give Twilight Path another lookover.
L R Waterbury
Posted: Monday, November 28, 2011 1:25 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 60

@LeeAnna, the comment about your mom made me laugh because it reminds me so much of mine. I think the absolute last beta reader I would give my manuscript to is my mother. She's hypercritical and tends to crush my ego in 5 seconds flat. If you ever want some soul-killing, give your manuscript to her. It doesn't matter how many times I edit my work, she would still kill it with a red pen. Well, actually, an old-fashioned No. 2 pencil. She wont even use a mechanical.

And I say all of that being a detail-oriented editor myself. I edit and edit and edit some more, even as I continue to write new material for the same project. I used to bang out a draft and then edit, but then found the editing task just too overwhelming at the end. The size of the job was what would end up killing the book, not the editing itself. Now I edit as I go and I have to say it has done wonders for my writing. But, yeah, there has to be a point when you say enough is enough.

I'll let you know if I ever find it.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Monday, November 28, 2011 3:37 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

@LR: Its not that my mom is a soul crusher, I suffer from worrying about changing her opinion of me. She can be critical, and knows good writing from bad, but there is some stuff in there that makes me want to bury it under the couch when she's around out of shame. I guess I got lucky not to have a pencil toting, writing nazi for a mom. I leave that to my creative writing professor. The reason I want to let her read it is that I'm still trying to find my audience. I can't say its the fantasy crowd in general because I get mixed reviews from those who are into that genre. (One of the reasons why I over edit.) So my mom, the trekkie/er, will help me out. Hopefully.

A question that I should have answered before: Yes, you can suck out the soul of your work with over editing. I've seen it happen. Even though people call for perfect grammar, perfect grammar can be one of the greatest soul killers of all. Every writer should use the basics, but should be able to make an educated call.
Charl F king
Posted: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 12:25 AM
Joined: 11/20/2011
Posts: 24

I'm 100% for creative writing and taking liberties, but sometimes those liberties border on plain literary rudeness  . I also think one should look at too many adjectives--too much telling and no showing--too much, he said/she said.
The typo gremlin crept in again. Roy found a typo in my book. My reaction, when I looked at his comment and he took the trouble to put the typo section in, was, what is he talking about. He didn't say typo, just put the section in. I looked at it, thought, sod it, and moved on. it bugged me. I went back and looked again. Then I saw it. Instead of "snores" I put in "sores" I couldn't believe it. The point I'm trying to make is that one gets stable-vision and just don't see the mistakes.
Joe Bridges
Posted: Tuesday, December 27, 2011 7:26 PM
Joined: 12/18/2011
Posts: 25

I can't tell you how many times I have edited and/or rewritten the book that I am currently finishing and uploading. Let's estimate it at TOO MANY, lol. I do find it helpful to put the book away for months at a time, forget all about it, then come back and read it. Every time I do that, it's like reading somebody else's book, and I read it, and say, "hey! that ain't too bad!" Then, I go through it again, delete about a gillion semicolons, run it through MS Word spelling and grammar check a hundred more times, read each chapter through three more times before uploading, and still end up groaning when I read it back again, because I almost always find something I have to fix. So, no, dear Charl, you are not the only one. And by the way, I finished reading The Twilight Path, and it is a very good story, even if there were maybe a few too many skittering eyes. I don't think you're finished with it; I'm not sure.... It didn't seem to have an ending yet, and it's still plenty short enough that you have room to put one. Oh! And by the way again, I love the cover art you have on that other website. Might want you to do mine, idk; may try to do it myself, since I have some old drawings of what all my aliens (and some of the humans, lol) are supposed to look like.

Hope all this helps.

Angela Martello
Posted: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 9:32 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

Self-editing is an addiction. I can stop anytime. Seriously. I can. . . Yeh, right. Maybe someone should start a 12-step program for editors.

Twenty years ago, when I was producing print medical books, if we found a typo at the blue line stage, we agonized over whether or not to fix it. It cost, at the time, about $30 a correction (quite a bit of cash). Needless to say, we let a number of trivial things go (which killed us). Today, I work on a purely electronic product. We can publish a monograph one day, then correct a typo or insert an update or make any of a number of other changes and republish it the next.

I find that with my own writing, as long as I'm working on a computer, I constantly go back and forth, tweaking here, tweaking there; squashing the Typo Gremlins. When will I stop? Probably not until my books are published (if ever). And even then, I'm sure I'll still read sections and think, "If only I had. . ."

Yeh, I can stop anytime. . .

(BTW: I edited this post a couple of times. . .)

M Romero Nunn
Posted: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 3:10 PM
Joined: 12/13/2011
Posts: 15

Totally agree with Angela about the addiction.

And have you noticed how, like a good addiction - if memory serves me well -  it feels great when you've just edited something. Still, you come totally down after too long an editing session or losing too much time on editing where, as Charl quite rightly bemoans, you've lost the life sparkle of your story.

Here's my penny's worth: All art seeks to communicate an idea/concept to a recipient. Good art, or what I'd consider just art, has a high or good quality of communication as opposed to not-so-good art which just communicates adequately or not at all, perhaps being too esoteric and forcing the recipient to need  a critic to tell them what the art is communicating, therefore receiving the communication on a third party and not via the art itself.
there is  a school of thought which pushes the idea that you only need tweak your work up to the point where your art communicates effectively your concept/idea complete with the feel, the ambience, the nuances you want to convey. So when I'm editing I know I could go to dizzying heights of editing excellence and, lets face it, as an absolute is not really reachable, I could edit just the one piece of work until my dying day. Or I could edit ONLY up to the point where it still allows my sparkling communication to reach the recipient in full knowledge that I could edit further BUT I don't have to because the work's communication is more important than the perfect word in the perfect place at the perfect time.

BTW, regarding typos: Do you think we're also getting too used to reading our black words on white paper that we might still miss the typo's? I've been trying out an experiment and printing black on yellow paper when editing so I pick up the Typo gremlins, just to shake up my mind so it doesn't get too complacent and miss them. Seems to be working so far...

LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Monday, January 9, 2012 11:54 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

Regarding Typo Gremlins: I had a friend who self published recently, and he discovered something when Create Space sent him his hard cover copy. What he discovered was that changing the format (i.e. double space print out to book format) let him see all his fun little errors. This actually works. In making my hand bound book for my mom, I too saw errors I had not caught before.
Maria Granovsky
Posted: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 5:20 PM
Joined: 1/10/2012
Posts: 28

I find that after the third revision, my own editing produces rapidly diminishing dividends. That's when I start pestering others to read it. I've found that the comments I get are  fairly consistent among readers, and quite often about things I didn't see or think about. Armed with this new information, I edit once again, then have another reading round. And another editing round. And then I stop because by that point, all the errors are usually worked out, and now it has the potential to become a "writing by committee" exercise, which I don't want it to be.

GD Deckard
Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2012 9:47 AM
The only editing question for me is, "Does this edit better say what I want to say?" If so, yup, I make the change. Otherwise, hell no.
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Monday, June 18, 2012 10:42 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

Bumping this up for new members to see.


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