Thursday, October 15, 2009

Editing: Methodology, Magic Dust, Superstition, or Voodoo?

I'm 200 pages into the novel I’m currently writing, and I've figured out how--in the next hundred pages or so--it will end. To make sure the conclusion I foresee is appropriate, I'm currently in the process of re-reading the entire manuscript, adding clues, sharpening the plotline, and clarifying motifs. As one would expect, the process has me thinking about editing.

I've heard many different methodologies regarding manuscript editing: Some authors insist on writing a complete draft before going back, adding details, and flushing out scenes and characters. Other writers edit as they go, making each scene as polished as they can before working on the next so that when they have finished, the book is ready for submission or publication. I’ve also heard the longhand-versus-computer debate whereby some novelists compose and edit on a computer, while others (Nelson DeMille comes to mind) write longhand, filling tablet after tablet. And there are scribes who combine these two methods: Richard Russo writes longhand on legal pads in the morning, then types his day’s work in the evenings, "editing" as he does so. Perhaps the most unusual method I’ve heard of is the prose writer who suggested that writers should draft work in single-spaced text but revise after double-spacing the manuscript. (I don’t get that concept.)

Obviously, each writer does what works best for them. In truth, a writer trying to create his best work is no different than a baseball player trying to keep a hitting streak alive. I read somewhere that Michael Crichton ate the same food for 90 consecutive days when working on a novel. I can’t verify that anywhere, but I believe it. After all, I routinely listen to the same mix (right now it’s Airborne Toxic Event, John Mayer, and Greenday) while I work on a book.

Is this superstition or methodology? I tell students to always print out their work and edit hardcopy with a pen/pencil. Yet, admittedly, I don’t always follow this adage. I also suggest that one read his or her work aloud during the editing process. This suggestion I do follow, religiously.

So why do we choose the methods we do? I think most of us write instinctively. And there is something magical that happens when your scene turns out exactly as you hoped it would. So what is the magic dust that somehow, somewhere gets sprinkled over the text in order for this to occur? I’m obviously a fan of many writers, and I often I find myself turning the page, thinking, Damn, she makes it look easy. But the writer in me knows that it probably wasn’t so “easy,” that the author probably worked her tail off to allow me to drift happily into the world she created. After all, that’s the goal of editing.

I’d love to hear my blog-mates’ and readers’ editing secrets and/or philosophies.


Jan Morrison said...

hi John, Yep - that's a topic for sure, editing as you go or writing one 'shitty first draft' (Anne Lamott). I rush at it for awhile and then I go back and tinker with no real plan as I go. Intuitive meets obsessive compulsive I'd call it. I do read it all aloud. Have to. That may be because I started with writing plays. I have a writing buddy one day a week and when I'm in the read aloud stage and she isn't or vice versa - we have to have separate rooms. After I've finished the first semi-rough draft I need to put it away for a week or two. Then when I pick it up it is fresh as a piece of writing as opposed to a piece of my heart or a pain in my butt and I am fresh as an editor not a writer. Voodoo definitely!

Janine said...

I flip between writing until the end and editing as I go.

One thing I ALWAYS do is run my manuscript through the AutoCrit Editing Wizard when I 'think' I am finished.

I'm always amazed at the 'oops' that the Wizard still finds: repeated words, overused words, too much backstory, etc, etc.

Charles benoit said...

Janie - thanks for the tip, I'm going to give it a spin.

Robby said...
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Robby said...
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Robby said...

Great comments! We wrote a response to this post on The Methodology Blog at:

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