Friday, February 1, 2013

Editing: the next step

So last week I was chugging away at editing Murder in the PTA, and feeling a little sluggish about managing to get through only 20 pages a day.

Turns out that was the fast and easy part.

See, what I was doing last week was working with a print-out of the MS, fussing with words and sentences, but when it came to things that needed big changes or completely rewriting, I would scrawl "fix this!" or "needs rewriting," or my favorite, "UGH!" in the margin and move on.

Now it's payback time.  Sitting in front of the computer, typing in those changes, I'll cruise along pretty well for a page or two (though even when doing simple changes, I read the whole thing as I go to see if anything else wants tweaking, so it's not all that fast).  Then I hit one of those evil marginal notes.  "Fix this?  How?  What the heck am I supposed to do about it?  And how DO I make this plausible?  Can I cut it entirely?" I grind to a halt.  Stare at the screen.  Shuffle through my pages and pages of notes about what needs modifying.  Ask myself again why I even wanted to try to beat this thing into a readable book (the answer, for those who care, is that I love the characters and their home on Pissmawallops Island).

Then I start typing.  And I realize that however hard it is, this is the part of editing that returns me to creativity.

I also realize that sometimes editing 5 pages a day is good progress.

So now I'm going to go all philosophical on you about writing and editing.  We writer-types get a lot of positive feedback from writing rough drafts.  You sit down, take up pen or keyboard (yeah, still undecided about that), and let the words flow. Out come 1000 words, 1500, and you get a cookie for being a good little writer.

Editing is completely different.  Sometimes the greatest progress is represented by the fewest pages completed.  I may hit a chapter that's pretty good as is and I can zip through it, change a word here and a sentence there, and think I'm really cruising.  But I haven't actually done much.  It's when I hit the rough patches, the "fix this!!!" parts, that I have to really write.

Here's the philosophical part.  I used to be a trail-runner (long story about why I don't get to do that any more, never mind).  When running trails, particularly in hilly country, the first thing you have to do is dump your idea of what your pace is.  Yeah, sure, I'm an 8-minute mile runner.  On the flat.  But when grinding up a steep, rough trail, the pace drops.  Twelve-minute, 15-minute miles. . . it's good.  A completely respectable pace, because you're climbing like crazy and gravity is a very powerful force determined to keep you at the bottom of the hill.  So you change your mindset.  You put yourself in a place where a completely different definition of speed holds sway.  Heck, it's a completely different definition of running.  One that says that as long as you are moving forward at all, up that giant, rock-strewn mountain, you're fantastic.

That's what real revision is.  A place where maybe you take all day to make two or three pages work right.  And you are happy, because it took you only one day to turn two or three pages of dreck into sparkling, witty prose (or just readable prose.  Sometimes the goal has to be truly modest.  It can learn to sparkle on another day).  And you stand on your little pile of two or three pages, and you are the winner of the New York Marathon.


For those who are wondering, I'm past that stage with Return to Skunk Corners, and hoping soon to get it back from my editors (you reading this, Lisa & Emily?) and put on the final polish.  Hope to have a cover to reveal soon, too!  Meanwhile. . . having fun with a little murder and mayhem, and starting a new kids' book to keep me out of trouble.

On another note--jump over to author S. W. Lothian's gorgeous web site to get all the details on the 14-book Middle Grade sampler, Love Middle Grade, Actually, free on Amazon from Feb. 7-11.  Read it and enter to win a Kindle, gift cars, and ebooks!

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