Salvation through editing.

My new book, DRT, is coming out this week (hopefully Wednesday). I thought I would write a little bit about the writing process.           

 

Orson
Welles once said editing isn’t just one aspect of cinema; it’s the aspect of
cinema. I would argue the same is true about writing fiction. Writing a blog
about editing is akin to writing a blog about eating your peas, but I submit to
you that the drafting process, even though it’s tedious, is what separates good
writing from bad. Most people don’t make it through their first draft. I’m sure
that since you’ve written a book, you bump into countless hundreds who are
‘thinking about’ doing the same. Most people don’t make it past the first
draft. The act of writing itself is lonely business. We often do it when our
spouse or whoever is in bed. Maybe you write in the morning if you work nights,
maybe at night if you work mornings. Whatever your method, you are probably
doing it in a room with nothing to comfort you but a blank screen and a
blinking cursor. Your motivation to turn that into a page full of ideas is what
separates you from people who simply ‘think about’ it.

            When you
finish the first draft, it’s a near religious experience only available to
those who walk the mile. You want to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and
achieve certain states of undress because you are filled with the kind of
accomplishment that most people only dream about. Through the smoke drink and
nakedness, there is a shouting voice that we all know well: “I never ever ever
ever want to see that story ever again.”

            It’s
normal. You have spent months swinging a sledgehammer at a story, building the
railroad by inches. If you’re like me, you probably got lost in the middle,
which created sleepless nights and punched walls. When you finally find your
way out, and make it to the end, you have a feeling of relief usually reserved
for liberated Parisians in 1944. You want to throw your work at a copy editor
and have he or she can figure it out. Cross the letters that need crossing and
dot the letters that require a dot, make it sound like English and lets get
this baby into a .mobi file. Call the cover designer.

            I am
arguing that you should sit on it a while. You never know what’s going to
happen. There are plenty of authors who get trapped in this process, writing
and revising the guts out of a project until it is stripped of protein and
seems like a shell of its former shadow. I have done that to some of my work.
In my first book, “Fall of the Citizens,” I rewrote one scene so many times
that I felt it lost the emotion of the first draft. In every other case, my
rewrites were always better. In fact, most of the book was written five months
after I finished the first draft. I’m pretty sure that only the last chapter,
the strongest in the book by a mile, is the only thing that survived from the
first draft.

            In my
latest book, DRT, the editing saved it. I wrote the story in between drafts of “Fall
of the Citizens,” giving myself something to do so that I could leave Citizens
alone in my closet for a while. The story I wrote was just a simple A to B to C
story, about a lonely traffic reporter in Washington DC that is haunted by the
ghost of a terrible car crash. After I edited and published Citizens, I went
back to DRT, and found a very flawed story waiting for me. The world that Greg
Harris lives in was far too limited, and most of the story happened inside his
head. This made for a very boring reading experience. I would have chucked it,
but I loved where the story went. The journey is worth the destination, so I
needed a boost.

            So I took a
couple of extra weeks, and added a ton of different things. I shifted the story
from a third person omnipotent narrator to a first person story, and added tons
of touches to fill out Greg’s world. In the process, I had a lot of fun. I
could stick whatever I wanted in there, because the opaqueness of Greg’s
existence meant the possibilities were endless. I also, in the process, added a
lot of instances of foreshadowing that made the story resonate. Now, instead of
putting out a sub-par ghost story, I have what I think is a really fun book.
The only reason that book is as good as it is now, is the editing.

            Now, it
helps that I have a good editor. She and I work closely, and she makes me
defend nearly every aspect of the story. She is honest with me when I am boring
her to death, with DRT she came right out and said, “I have no idea why I
care.” Harsh, but it works. She hates it when she spends two hours editing
something and I go back and rewrite it, but she understands that I am going to
make it better.

            Much ink is
spilled about grammatical mistakes by self-published authors. I was accused of
editing mistakes in “Citizens” when the reviewer didn’t understand the words I
was using. I kept getting cited for using the word “hove,” a nautical term
which is the past tense for “heave.” People thought I meant, “shoved.” The
words written about the grammatical challenges of self-published authors
creates a lot of navel gazing among us, and we wind up forgetting about the
editing that actually affects the flow and tone of the story. It’s the editing
that only the author themselves can do, because you are adding scenes into a
story that you have already completed. You’ve finished your story, and now you
can add light touches to it. Make it interesting. Hide little pieces of
symbolism that only you know about.  Remember: the coolest trick you have in your
bag is that you know how it ends.

            If the 1000
words you write today suck, don’t throw them out. You can fix them later. If
you are good enough to write one draft of one book, you’re good enough to fix
that paragraph that doesn’t work later. We have to set deadlines for ourselves
because we all need that motivation, but don’t forget the editing. Spend at
least a couple of weeks daydreaming after you finish your first draft. Keep
notes on said daydreaming.

            If you like
your story, make it better! Take a little extra time to flesh out that world
you created. Your characters and readers will thank you in the end. 

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