Or, How I Lost My Irrational Fear Of Editing.
For the longest time, I hated, loathed, and dreading editing even though I’d hardly done a stitch of that very necessary part of the writerly craft. I’d write a novel (or two, or three, or…) and let it wallow in all its unedited glory because I was too apprehensive and/or too lazy to tackle the project and get it whipped into shape. I think one of the biggest reasons for this phobia was that I really had no idea where to start. Do I line edit first or do I chop up the plot? If I take out dialogue and plot and end up needing them later, what am I going to do? And how on earth do I improve characterization? (it seemed such an intangible thing to me) That’s how it went on for, oh, I’d say about two years.
Then, I discovered Combat! and everything changed.
Usually when I get really obsessed with a book or movie or TV show, I end up writing fan-fiction centered around said book/movie/TV show. I wrote the most horrid bits of Enjonine fan-fiction back in 2012, gave up all fan-fic writing in 2013, and then gave the thing another try with The Hunger Games and Rat Patrol in the middle of 2014. I think the fan-fiction I wrote for those two fandoms were relatively good (if you want to check them out, my fanfiction.net profile is right here) but I didn’t edit them a bit before posting them on-line, something that I very much regret now. Anyway, when I started getting the inevitable ideas for Combat! fan-fiction, I wanted to do things differently. My first story was about Doc and because he’s amazing and awesome and practically perfect in every way, I wanted the story to be the same. And the only way I knew of doing that was *gulp* Ye Dreaded Editing.
Thankfully, I had a friend who’d loved the show for years (and thus could help me with the dialogue and plot and characterization much better than an ordinary beta reader) and she willingly agreed to read over the fan-fic and give me her thoughts. So I finished writing it up and sent it off to her with no little trepidation. I had actually edited a couple of short stories, and the part I hated most about the process usually turned out to be the actual critique, because my stupid writer’s pride couldn’t bear to have its ‘genius’ critiqued. So White Queen (that’s her pen-name in the Combat! fandom – you can check out her blog here) read the story and sent it back to me with a lot of comments that Microsoft Word handily accommodates. Overall, she’d enjoyed the story, but there were definitely several things to work out.
I’ll admit that it was hard. The comments weren’t harsh, or anything like that, and there were positive ones sprinkled among the negative ones, but any kind of critique is hard for me to take. I wish I was thicker skinned, but I’m not – at least not yet. There may have been a few tears shed in frustration and some semi-sleepless nights, but I persevered, took almost all her suggestions…and you know what? The story turned out great. Really great, if I do say so myself. It took some ranting to my sister and deep breaths and gritted teeth and swallowing of pride, but I edited the thing and it’s infinitely better for the critique. (actually, there were two rounds of critiques, but that’s beside the point) Now, I wish I could say it was easier when I sent in my next bit of Combat! fan-fiction to WQ, but it wasn’t. Not really. I was still apprehensive. There was still the ranting and frustration and deep breaths. I’m still not thick skinned. But, again, I pushed through my stupid writer’s pride and got the job done. And that’s really all you can do.
How does all this talk of trials and tribulations while editing fan-fiction relate to my ‘real’ writing?
Well, I’ve been editing Project Remembrance for several days now (what I’ve got written of it, that is, so I can move on to more of the plot) and it’s actually been easy, if not fun. Fun. Imagine that. (I’m sure part of the fun is the fact that I’m doing it under my own critique, and not someone else’s, but still…) The story is improving before my eyes, and that’s always an amazing feeling. As I’ve said before, I really, REALLY think that PR could be The Novel That Gets Published. I’m still a long way away from that day, but it’s the goal. And it’s been made possible by the boost of confidence that editing [what are essentially] short stories gave me. If you don’t feel too sure about tackling the process of revisions, I’d recommend two things. (And they’re really the only two things I can think of as tips for editing)
- Find a good critique partner. Not just someone who knows a whole lot about writing – dialogue, plot, characterization, etc. – but someone who knows how to mix praise with pointers on what’s wrong. Let me tell you…it’s a huge morale booster when you’re wading through a bunch of comments to find a little gem saying something like “I love this bit of dialogue!” or “Great characterization here.” And, of course, your critique partner should be attuned to what you writer. Don’t saddle a lover of western romances with 100,000 words of grim, sci-fi dystopia. They’ll thank you.
- Practice on short stories. Fan-fiction is actually a good place to start if you want to practice editing techniques because the characters are ready-made, which means you just have to fiddle with thought/dialogue a little to get some really stellar characterization. Also, you tend to care enough about the topic to see revisions through to bitter (happy?) end. Although original short stories can work just as well.
So, there you have it. My (somewhat limited) editing tips – feel free to share some of yours in the comment section!