How I Edit

You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you.  And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.  ~Arthur Polotnik

An editor is someone who separates the wheat from the chaff and then prints the chaff.  ~Adlai Stevenson, as quoted in You Said a Mouthful edited by Ronald D. Fuchs

If I don’t answer my phone today, it’s because I’m editing. Or, I jumped out the window. ~Me
As many of you know, I’ve been on a mission to edit my work in progress, Kyresa. There are some steps left before I can actually call the book “finished,” but I am pleased to announce the editing stage is officially done! Woo hoo!

Editing is a funny thing—it is imperative for crafting a quality piece, but it’s also a grueling, tedious stage that must usually happen several times. While every writer edits, I don’t believe every writer edits in the same manner. Today I thought I’d share the process I used for the most recent edit of Kyresa.

First of all, this last edit was more of an edit/rewrite/edit mashup. I had an idea that I might potentially want to change the ending, but I knew that I couldn’t make that decision until I re-immersed myself in the story. When I started, Kyresa was 111,400 words. That’s about 404 pages, double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font. I printed it out 2-sided and put it into a binder that I could tote around wherever I went. I armed myself with three goals:

  • Cut the crap.
  • Cut the crap.
  • Cut the crap.

Then I set five more goals to work through as I edited:

  • If there’s a simpler way to say it, find it.
  • Lay off the dialogue tags if the speaker is clear. (“You sure do talk a lot, Eva,” THE BLOG READER SAID.)
  • Keep an eye on adverbs, because Mr. Stephen King thinks they’re the devil and he probably knows his devils writing horror and all.
  • Don’t rob the reader of the right to come up with her own image of the person/place/thing by giving too many showing details. (I am a control freak, so over-explanation can happen.) (Like that last parenthetical comment.) (Sorry.)
  • Decide if I want to change the ending. (I wrote a note to myself about 20 pages after where I thought I’d like to end it that said, “Are you feeling an ending change, Eva?”—and yes, this is actually written on the page.)

So, I went through the whole book this way, marking all over it with a variety of pens. Some pages were just a little marked up, and some looked like I had a blue/green/red pen party and just dripped the ink everywhere like a crazy person. And when I made my way to the moment of ending-change decision, I opted to go for it!

This is where the “rewrite” part of the mashup happened. I pulled all the scenes I wanted to delete out of the binder and tucked them in the back, but kept the scenes between that I thought were useful. Then I blared Clannad’s “I Will Find You” two times as theme music before setting off to write the new ending. (I generally do not write to music, but sometimes I will listen to it and run it through my head as I write. Or blurt out singing. Either way works.) I then printed out the new scene and stuck it in the binder, and went back to fix the story where necessary to accommodate my new ending. This involved a lot of scrap paper hole punched and stuck in where appropriate, and lots of lines written over entire margins. I also seriously edited my new scene, since it was freshly written and needed some heavy tuning.

Once I got to the last page, I started to tear up. In fact, I get teary-eyed every time I get to the end of this book. (This means either it’s moving or I’m a complete sap, only time will tell.)

After that, I watched a movie and then cleaned up my office (please reference Clean Space, Fresh Perspective for more info on this, and if you’re feeling a tad more voyeuristic, you can learn about and see what my office space looks like in a guest post I did here), but from then on it was business. I proceeded to enter all the changes into the computer. This took a loooonnnggggg time (days), because along the way I found other little changes, and of course I did all of this knowing there were more to come. Over and over again. And again.

After the changes were in, Kyresa was down to about 101,000 words—I’d say half of this was due to the ending change and the other half to my aforementioned goals. But I still wasn’t done!

Now came the “find and replace” (F&R) game.

I did this with every word I’d noticed as an overused word when I edited, and with others I found through the SmartEdit software I mentioned in my last post. I searched for repeated actions (sighing, for example), passive voice (was, were, to be) and for words we humans tend to overuse without realizing (that, so, few, really, very, just, even, like, and many others). Changing these words didn’t always entail deleting or the simple use of the “replace” function; sometimes the whole sentence needed restructuring. In addition, I went through Every.Single.Adverb that SmartEdit recorded and evaluated its purpose, and ran the dreaded F&R one more time for the word as (which, by the way, I am now seeing everywhere, and it makes me want to throw things).

All of this cut Kyresa way down in unnecessary wordage—to 93,400 words, as a matter of fact!

(Oh my gawd I said “as” and I think I’m going to scream!)

After that, I did a happy dance. This was both to celebrate and to cheer me up, because every time I did the F&R function I went from the beginning to the end of the novel—meaning there were a lot of teary eyes again. Geez…

Lastly, I ran a spellcheck and a computer-version of proofread (which is hilarious for a fantasy novel, by the way: Wench. “Sexist expression. Avoid using this word.”), printed it out, and set it aside for a few days to stew before I proofread it for any glaring grammatical errors, typos, or other oddities that need cutting.

Another thing of note—and I want to mention this because I think it’s important no matter what you’re writing, be it a book, some poetry, or a paper for school—I resave about every 10 minutes, and each day I save the file with a new name. “Kyresa(updated 7-1-12),” then “Kyresa(updated 7-2-12),” etc., so that I can always go back if I change my mind on cutting a scene. And though I have a backup drive, I also email the file to myself every few days (because a backup drive is no good if your house burns down).

Sooooo…there you have it, my editing process. 🙂

Now I’m curious: what’s yours? Please share in the comment section below! I’m sure many of you have some great ideas that the rest of us would like to [steal] know about! Thanks for sharing, and happy editing!

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About Eva Rieder

Eva Rieder is a speculative and contemporary/mainstream fiction author. By day, she masquerades as a high school Math and English teacher. Though she adores teaching and her students very much, when Eva returns home she reglues her fingertips to the keyboard to pursue her alter ego’s destiny. She currently lives and writes in Northern California with her two keyboard-savvy cats. View all posts by Eva Rieder

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