Maybe I’m not lazy after all

Edit Ruthlessly

I think I’ve discovered my problem with editing. I always thought I was just lazy, each time I found myself resisting the necessary process of honing and polishing my work. After all, serious writers spend months and years editing and I can hardly bring myself to do a few days before I’m ready to start writing a new novel from scratch. I’m clearly not a serious writer, just a housewife with delusions.

But maybe it isn’t that at all (well, perhaps the delusions bit is true).

I think the problem is to do with visible progress.

When you write a first draft you can watch the word count growing, the number of chapters increasing. Characters develop and do crazy things, taking your carefully crafted outline in a new and unexpected direction. It creates a buzz, fills you with euphoria. It’s like going for a run, when everything is working properly and you feel like you could fly if only you knew how.

With editing there is no way to track progress. Word count, if anything, goes down. Chapters need to be moved, re-numbered, scrapped. And who’s to say the chapter you’ve just spent three hours rewriting is actually any better? It’s more akin to doing housework: five hours’ of effort and what is there to show for it, particularly after the kids have been home five minutes.

I get confused, too, with what I’m actually doing. Am I checking for readability? Grammar? Continuity errors? If I’ve spotted a character gap do I go fix that, trying to find the right place to add in extra scenes or sentences that will make the character work, or do I stick with my linear progression through the novel?

I’m not the most organised person and I find it hard keeping track of what needs changing, particularly when I only work on it two days a week, with two or three days of childcare in between. (There’s nothing like 57 verses of Wheels on the Bus to dam your creative flow.)

I could do with a tool that magically highlights everything written about one character in green, another in red. All adverbs could be in blue, all passive tense in orange. Clichés could be highlighted in flashing letters so you can pick them off one by one. Even better would be a tool that says ‘This bit’s great, this bit is pants, re-write it.’ (I know, now I’m just being silly.)

Thinking about it seriously though, there are probably thousands of writing programmes out that that might make me more organised. Maybe I should look for one. Or is that just another form of procrastination (like starting a new novel or short story) to take me away from the unavoidable hard slog of editing? I think I probably know the answer.

Still, if anyone knows of super-organising software that won’t kill my netbook, I’d love to hear about it.

P.S. Since writing this post (while out walking the dog, as usual) I have downloaded the free trial of Scrivener, which I have been meaning to do since completing Nanowrimo last November. So far I’m half an hour in to the two-hour tutorial and it does look as if it might be helpful, if only I can figure how to use it!

Anyone used it before?

8 thoughts on “Maybe I’m not lazy after all

  1. I do multiple edits–and each has a different goal. Once I have a completed draft of my story or novel, I read all the way through the story once or twice, looking for plot inconsistencies or things I could do better. Then I hand that off to a pre-reader and await comments. After letting everything sit and stew for a little while (during which time it’s perfectly okay to start another project), I start another beginning-to-end edit and start making the suggested changes and whatever I want to change. Then I go back through again, looking for things that annoy me (sentences that don’t quite work or are redundant). Another proof is produced for my pre-readers. If they have any other suggestions, those get put in, and I do one more read-through for me.

    Finally, once I’m done changing the characters, the plot, and everything else, then I do the proofreading edit (looking for typos, bad grammar, etc.) and the formatting edit (for print and e-publishing).

    I don’t mind the first dozen edits, because I like the stuff I’ve written and I don’t mind reading it repeatedly; it’s the last two edits that are tedious (especially as I’m paranoid about having errors in my work).

    I’m slogging my way through the proofreading edits on my first novel right now. I’ve set myself the goal of completing one chapter per day (which is a bit ambitious; I really average more like four per week). I also set a publication date on my blog. Now all my friends and family members (and maybe I’ve got fans; I pretend I do, anyways) expect it to be published in November, so I’m forced to keep myself moving.

    And eventually you just have to make the leap–whether you are 100% prepared or not. Endlessly tweaking your story can easily become an excuse not to publish–and, consequently, expose yourself to possible criticism or failure.

    You might try publishing a short story first. I did that (one on Amazon and a serial novel on Smashwords) and it’s helped get me over the fear a bit. Also, short stories don’t require so much editing and revising, nor does it take as long to do what you have to do. Every time you push yourself through it, it gets a bit easier. Eventually you’ll tackle that novel.

    • Thank you so much Keri, this is really valuable advice. My biggest flaw is that I’m impatient, so I’m trying to do all those edits at once so I can fire it off to some agents. (I love checking grammar, by the way, maybe we should trade!)
      I do like writing short stories because of the control and the ability to really focus. Unfortunately I don’t seem to get many ideas for short stories, just full-length romance novels. The two short stories I’ve finished were both mostly autobiographical (and are currently somewhere on a desk at Woman’s Weekly!)
      I don’t have beta readers or pre-readers, just my husband, and he takes forever to read anything because he only gives it a few hours a week on the train. Are your pre-readers sourced from people you know, or fellow bloggers or a writing group? Every day I spend on this writing and blogging lark I learn of a few dozen more things I need to learn…

      • I recently posted about plot cards: I’ve used a homemade tarot deck and the free Deal-a-Plot cards (link in my post) to write my most recent short stories. And by short stories, I mean more like novellas; they’re running 25-30 pages. That gives me time to establish one or two characters and a problem, then work through that problem and come to a satisfying conclusion. I don’t really like to read (or write) anything shorter because it ends just when you’re getting into it.

        I’ve heard that when it comes to novels, after you finish the first draft, you should let them set for 6 months without working on them. I don’t always obey that rule, but I do let them set for at least a few months. That’s when I will start something else. This way I have a constant string of things rotating into publication and I’m not stuck doing ONLY editing. (I usually have one editing and one writing project going on simultaneously.)

        My novel pre-readers are primarily my husband and a close friend. I had a couple of other people read my first book, but their comments were primarily, “I liked it.” While that’s good for the ego (and to know that you appeal to different types of audience), it’s not very helpful feedback from a writing standpoint.

        My husband and my friend give me the best feedback, because they say, “That fact is not correct,” or “I didn’t like that scene,” or “I need to know more about…” etc. Even if you just have one such person in your life, they’re more valuable than a dozen, “I like it; when’s the sequel?” readers.

        When I have a short story/novella that I need proofed, I just ask my friends on Facebook if anyone will proof it for me. So far I’ve been able to get a couple per story. They get to read a story for free and I thank them in the intro to the published copy.

      • Thank you for your lovely long reply.
        I love the idea of using Tarot cards for plot ideas (my first, currently unfinsihed, novel is all about Tarot. I haven’t been brave enough to go back to it because I sketched out the last few chapters the day I went into labour with my second child and I just know it’s going to not be as good as I remember it!)
        I did try and let my current novel sit for a while, but I kept having new ideas about bits I had missed out. Plus I felt that I was so close to it I knew which chapter contained what, so it was more straightforward adding bits. Now I’m just confused about the ideas I’ve had but haven’t fixed yet, and just plain intimidated by all the things I need to add in but don’t know where to start. I don’t know where I am. I’m just not very organised (plus did I mention I’m very impatient!)
        My current thinking is that I need to shelve all my novels (I actually have five that are in various stages of completion) and spend a few years writing short stories. With the kids so little and only a day or two a week to spend on writing I just can’t seem to get organised enough to do the novel justice. I just need to come up with a way to find ideas for short stories. I will definitely have a look at your plot cards post (and of course there is always the Tarot deck!)

    • Thank you again for your lovely long replies. I desperately want to take the plunge and publish, but I am still thinking along the ‘get an agent’ route and I know no agent is going to look twice at my WIP at it stands. Do you self publish all your work? I have thought about putting one of the novels on Amazon for kindle and seeing what happens. I know a friend of a friend who got on the top of the best seller list. However, she spent a long-hard-slog three months (and I’m sure you know all about it!) doing the marketing and self promotion, and I’m super rubbish at self promotion (that’s why I want an agent!). Gosh the more I reply to comments the more I realise how many excuses I make. If I was listening to myself I would tell myself to shut up and get on with it! Haha.

      • I think there’s a balance to strive for here.

        I don’t feel like I write so well when I switch between projects too frequently; I need a little time to get into the minds of my characters and the tone of the story. So it’s better for me if I work on one novel (or at least series) for at least a few days at a time. You might try focusing on one thing for a month, then switching. This allows what you’re NOT working on to sit, while allowing you to get enough done on one thing to have a sense of accomplishment.

        On the other hand, if you don’t set a deadline for yourself, you may find a way to procrastinate forever. Certainly I found myself doing that with my proofreading edits. So I bit the bullet and set a publication date which was far enough in the future to allow me ample time to get things done, but which also forces me to actually buckle down and work.

        You might want to set a date (and announce it on your blog!) that you will submit X story/novel to an agent. That forces you to finish it. Otherwise you might get stuck in a rip in the space-time continuum and be doomed to make edits over and over and over again. That’s part of finding the balance between doing something well and letting it go, come what may.

        So far I’ve only self-published one short story (not counting a serial novel that I publish weekly, for free, on my blog). I plan on publishing at least one more short story–hopefully two–between now and November, which is when I’m going ahead with my first novel. After spending more than a year trying to get an agent–and getting 50+ rejection letters–I finally decided that it can’t possibly be any more painful to self-publish than it’s been to get all those rejections.

        And from what I’ve been reading online, self-publishing is growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s ever so slowly starting to lose some of its stigma. Yes, there’s still a lot of crap out there, but there are also a lot of good authors who are either like me, and are tired of waiting on someone else, or who are tired of making next to nothing with a traditional publisher. The profits on self-published works are much higher, plus you never give up your rights to the work, so you can publish it in print or in e-book or in other languages–whatever you want. Even traditionally-published authors are going back to their old stuff and self-publishing it (and lamenting that they gave up rights to other things which are out of print and which they can’t reprint on their own).

        The holy grail is to be so popular as a self-published author that a publisher seeks YOU out. These people are negotiating more in advances, more in royalties, and are keeping more rights options than writers ever have before.

        Some people have predicted that self-publishing is going to bring down the traditional publishers (sometimes referred to as “the Big Six”)–and if not bring them down, at least make it writing more profitable for the writer. Self-publishing has the potential to do for writers what unions did for factory workers simply by competing against the monoliths of the industry. (There’s also more room for smaller publishers in the new dynamic.)

        Yes, you have to market, market, market when you self-publish. But that’s also true when you go through a traditional publisher. I’ve read repeatedly that getting a publisher is not the end of your work; the publisher will get your books in stores, but that only lasts for so long; it’s up to you to sell them once they get there (just like it’s up to you to sell the book you put on the shelf at Amazon). Agents help some, but more in the way that they tell you what you need to do; you’re still left to do a lot of the work on your own.

  2. I have developed a technique that works for me. I downloaded the item needed edited onto my ipad and started to read. If something needs changed, I write it down in a spiral notebook. Works wonders.

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