Monday, January 11, 2016

Writer, Heal Thyself--the Agony and Ecstasy of Editing

With my latest Black Horse Campground novel, "At the Cross Road", scheduled to be released in the next few weeks, I'm at that point in the process that I love and loathe in almost equal amounts.

Final editing.

Any writer will tell you that editing is one of the least enjoyable aspects of the writing process... and one of the most enjoyable. Finishing the first draft is exhilarating, but then you begin to read it over and you cringe. What mad person wrote this mess? Once you get past the despairing feeling that your draft is beyond help, a spark of excitement suddenly flares. You can fix this. You have something to work with. Suddenly your draft acquires a name: Steve Austin. "We can rebuild him. We have the technology... Better than he was before. Better... stronger... faster." Not to mention coherent, cohesive, interesting, and entertaining. With fewer spelling and grammar errors!

So begins the first round of edits. First, spelling and grammar errors are tackled. Out comes the red pen. Then you ask a trusted reader to read the whole manuscript and point out other problems that the author might be too close to see for himself: "The story started on Tuesday. Four days later and it's Wednesday?" "Okay, so is this character's name Donald or David? It's changed three times in the first two chapters!" "It's chapter three and I already know who did it...."

After another round or two, in which the author adds some missing detail and takes out a lot of unnecessary detail (more is removed than is added, if the author does it right) and makes corrections in continuity and clarity, then off it goes to the publisher who sends it back in text block form. This means that it's set up just as it would look in the finished product. It's a heady thing to look at! It looks like a real book! And then....

Good Lord, how many ellipses did I use in one paragraph? Six chapters end with only ONE sentence on the last page? Am I really seeing the word "peculiar" four times on the same page? How many times DID I use the word "very" in the entire book??

And the editing begins again, with even more close scrutiny. Single-sentence pages require extensive pruning of the chapter they end (six sentences or fewer and I'm looking to see where I can make cuts!) My publisher was the one who noticed my affection for ellipses and kindly suggested that I could lower the page count (and price!) of my novel if learned to rein in the impulse to include an ellipse in almost every paragraph! And colored highlighters are a great way to find excessively used words (especially adverbs like "very" or "really".)

It might take a round or two of returning corrections (typos and errors get really good at hiding... you have to be sharp!) before you can finally say, "It is finished." You sign off on the finished, polished text block, your publisher signs off on it, and off it goes to the printer....

And panic sets in.

DID I get every last error in spelling, punctuation, and grammar corrected? Did I do my very best? Is the book the very best it can be?

And of course, there is always the possibility of a minor error slipping through (nothing like having your book printed and out there for public scrutiny for catching a glaring error... though it is rare!)

But you breathe a sigh of relief and offer a prayer of thanks that it's over.

And you start on the next book's first draft....

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