Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Edit...another four-letter word.

I will admit to a real high-on-life feeling when I made the statement that I had completed my first book.  I will also admit to the fact that I misspoke.  What I should have said was that I had completed the “first draft” of my first book.  Having a first draft meant I had completed the first big step but it also meant something else; my book was ready for the next step…the editing process. 

Writing a book is one thing…editing is an entirely different matter.  I will admit I prefer the writing portion.
Editing is…difficult and exhausting but also exhilarating and a real defining moment: 

  • It is difficult to be critical about your own work.
  • It is exhausting because you are very emotionally attached to your work and you might not like making some of the necessary changes.  It is also emotionally draining to know the first edit is not the last.
  • It is exhilarating to read your own work and realize you enjoy reading the story as much as you enjoyed writing it.
  • The whole process is a defining moment because as you read over your work, you appreciate what you have accomplished and with some awe you realize what you are capable of once you set your mind to it.
In the research I completed before I even began writing the book, there were many bits of advice offered with regard to editing.  You would think the number one piece of advice would involve grammar, spelling, dialogue and anything else that might make the story better.

You’d be wrong.
Instead, most authors advise putting the book away where you cannot read it, much less look at it.

Why?  For how long?
In his book titled The Newbie's Guide to Publishing, J.A. Konrath's advice is to put the book away for a week, maybe two.  His reason:  “The longer you can stay away from it, the more you can forget what you wrote and approach it with fresh eyes.”

Tom Monteleone, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel, agrees.  His advice is to put the book away for at least a couple of weeks because “you’ve been so close to it, you can’t possibly have much objectivity working for you.”
The advice makes sense, doesn’t it?

In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he believes the first draft should be set aside for six weeks.  King further states, “…you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.  It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps.  This is the way it should be, the reason you waited.  It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own.”
You might ask what darlings are being killed at this point.  It’s just a quote by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who once said “Murder your darlings.”  No, we’re not talking about the rock band here.  It is a phrase to define the difficult task of removing from your story portions which may not be necessary even if you love them.     

It is, admittedly, a very difficult task.
So did I wait six weeks to review my work?  Of course not, or I would still be waiting.  I gave myself just about two weeks before I began to edit.  Honestly, I could not have waited any longer.  I’m on a personal timeline here.  However, Stephen King was right, it was an exhilarating experience to recognize what I wrote but also feel as if I were reading someone else’s work. 

So I have completed the difficult task of editing the first draft.  The printed version of my book is now a mess of notes and scribbles.  What’s next?  Retyping my work to reflect the changes I made to the first draft.  After that, I’m hopeful the second review will require only a limited number of necessary changes so that I can accurately state my book is complete.
Imagine “back in the old days” when writers used manual typewriters?  Am I aging myself when I say I actually remember using a manual typewriter in high school?  I am thankful for technology because I cannot imagine this process without my computer.  I will say I truly respect any author who first broke into the world of writing with only a typewriter, reams upon reams of paper and a truly high tolerance to hard work.

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