Adventures in Editing
I have a confession to make. I love editing my novel. Yep, I love ripping scenes apart, uncovering what works or doesn't, discarding whole chapters (and random fluffy bits), and then rewriting it all over so that makes sense and matches the story in my mind. It's a freeing feeling to be able to do this: Take 50,000 words, scrap most of it, and then build it all up again with clarity and a tighter sense of what really matters to telling the story I want to say.
Last year I had the goal of editing one of my NaNoWriMo novels and self-publishing it. I figured that If I gave myself a deadline, then maybe I'd actually do something with it. After all, if you schedule a deadline, you must stick to that goal, right? Boy was I wrong. I sat on it. The most I did with it was to admire it from afar, in its Circa-bound glory. I then focused on everything else surrounding my book's eventual publication, like buying books on self-publication (none of which I've read yet) and keeping up with the latest print on demand news. Not once during all that time did I sit down to re-craft my draft so the story was worthy of publication. Seeing that it's 2009, I can assure you that my "setting a deadline" plan did not work for me at all.
So how did I get from doing nothing to loving it? What drove me to make the dreaded leap from first draft to better draft? Two words: Collaborative Editing.
That's right, editing my words along with another writer who's also editing their own work has become my secret editing trick. It's the best thing for me and my work. Getting together with another writer motivates me. It gives me someone to bounce ideas about things I can or should not do with my novel. It gives me the much needed reader perspective on how my words and images are interpreted. And it pushes me to keep my butt in the chair and write, write, write. Simply put, it's just more fun.
Last year I started/joined a writing group. We're a small, close knit group of speculative fiction writers (who write other stuff too!) who come together twice monthly in a coffee shop in Portland to share our words, offer support and critique, and write alongside one another. Through the holidays, our sessions became informal gatherings of writerly talk. During one of these free-for-all meetings I aired some frustrations with my inability to sit down and edit/revise my novel.
One thing led to another and soon I found myself agreeing to a writer's date with Cyd. A week later, I was at her house, tearing apart my novel's first draft. I opened a new file in Scrivener and cut all 100 pages of it down into scene-by-scene chunks. We weren't always quiet and focused in our own novel-words. In between all that work, we shared favorite passages, discussed new twists of words or things we hoped our readers could take from our books, and talked about key plot points. I left her house that night feeling proud to have actually gotten six hours of actual editing momentum going on my book.
Since then, Cyd and I pair up as often as we can. We're not abandoning our group, we just want more time to devote to our stories and to share new chapters with a real reader. Last week we ended up spending five hours going though the first 5 chapters of her book, scene by scene. I read each page, then told her exactly what I saw or felt. We discussed passages that I found lacking in description or cohesion. I told her exactly what I liked, what didn't work for me and why I felt this way.
Last night, we got together again for a shorter session. My turn. Seated over a nice sushi dinner, she gave the first chapter of my novel a workout. There's so many marks and comments on the printed copy that I hope I don't forget what it all means. But once again, collaborative editing gave me good advice on shaping my story. I now have a better idea of what my story needs to do to keep the audience turning pages. I went home with a clearer image of what stays in that chapter and what goes. I also now have a first reader who I can trust to tell me exactly what she wants out of my story.
Collaborative editing takes a lot of time, but the rewards are worth it. Cyd now has insight into what passages trip her readers as they follow the adventures of her alien characters through an expansive galaxy. That immediate feedback helped her rewrite and cut out the clutter that held back understanding what her story was about for me. Collaborative editing surprised me with how strongly it hooked me.
I still have a long way to go before I can shop my novel around. But I've done more in the past few weeks to move me forward to that goal, than I did in a whole year. And it's all thanks to my new fondness for collaborative editing.