Reflecting on Editing

I don’t usually reflect on my writing process much. I’m a big believer that if you put too much thought into something, especially creative work, then you can over-think it. Lately though I’ve thought more about my writing style and how it’s changed over the years. I guess if you plan to improve any skill, it’s important to keep track of your progress and see how it’s evolved. Maybe it’s just because it’s the end of the year, maybe it’s because I nearly have a manuscript finished, or maybe I just get more retrospective around the holidays. Either way, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on how my writing style has improved over the last year or so.

Since I started really taking my writing seriously a few years back, I’m realizing that I never quite knew how to edit properly. I knew what I had used on research papers, when putting together short stories, and writing posts online; but novels are a very different animal. You have to keep a high-level perspective while you’re going through so you can maintain themes and personalities over a longer span. On the first few passes, I realize now that I was too close to it still (despite how many months I waited) to properly edit Pikes Peak.

This time around I’m adding much more. I’m rewording scenes, fixing awkward sentences, adding in character development, and describing the environment in far more detail than I had previously. For some reason on my first few passes through I didn’t realize how bare-bones the piece was. I was simply too focused on grammar and spelling; I was too distracted by the small parts to notice how much work I really had left to do. For the first time this piece is feeling really complete, and I’m really enjoying this edit more than the others.

So what changed? I don’t know if I have a satisfactory answer. I’ve been reading books differently, I know that much. Instead of just getting caught up in the world, I take the time to notice the sentence structure, the choice of perspective, and the way a scene is described. That was kind of the first step. Then I started finding a bunch of useful posts online about professional writers’ editing tactics (check out a few of my recent posts for some examples, like Revision Roadmap and Subplottin’). Around the beginning of this year I also bit the bullet and posted a few sections to the critique group on Scribophile. It showed me some major flaws in my writing method that I hadn’t even considered before, some bad habits I picked up over the years, and really just some fresh perspective on it. They weren’t problems I couldn’t fix overnight, but slowly I’ve used that feedback to help my writing style. I’m more conscious of repetition, word choice, pronouns (always my bane), and carefully crafting action scenes.

I look back on my work from last year or even two years ago and I’m noticing a huge difference. I pick out grammar problems pretty quick and I can also give you a piece’s strengths and weaknesses. You have to actively try to improve your writing and that takes time, but I guess that’s the case for any discipline. I feel like I’m getting closer to my writing goals though and that is a wonderful feeling.

The next step? Learning to cut out the weaknesses in any piece (despite how much I love it the way it is) and pump up its strengths. I suppose that’s where the ‘kill your darlings’ advice comes in, and although I wouldn’t consider them my darlings exactly, I’m still guilty of spoiling them. I’ll make excuses for why I don’t cut a subplot out or why I don’t rework a particular plot I like despite it making a story more convoluted. Writing isn’t just about putting words down on paper, it’s also about what you don’t put down. It’s a lesson I’m still grappling with.

Revision Roadmap

Because just putting your idea on paper isn’t enough. Rewriting is a necessity for any book.

Some things I especially like in her post:

  • Keeping track of times/dates. It’s easy to lose track of this when you’re writing, but makes an enormous difference to any reader.
  • Mark locations. If half your book happens in a single room, then you might want to revise it.
  • Control the emotional reigns of your story. If there is never a break for the reader, the book might be tiring. Jot down notes and plan your crescendos accordingly.

Edits, NaNo, and New Orleans

So some good news – I finally finished editing Pikes Peak yesterday! Woo-hoo! It got steadily more difficult toward the end there, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to finish it this weekend or not. I’m still not 100% happy with some of the dialogue, and I may have a few tiny plot-holes that need filling, but I think it’s ready for my first round of RL readers to take a look. Working on compiling it and formatting it properly before I begin printing it.

I also have decided that I’m going to start working on the sequel for this year’s NaNoWriMo, and if you’d like to friend me my username is lenaf007. It’s tentatively titled Smoke and Witchcraft and will be centered in New Orleans and the nearby swampland. I’ve got a basic plot premise in mind, but I ‘m going to want to get the details of the city itself down pat to make sure I portray it accurately. I know it’s a supernatural fantasy story, and it doesn’t have to be perfect, but I really do try to make it seem like it could have occurred during that time period.

Mostly my research is going to focus on the brothels of the area, and the seedier side of the city. If anyone has any websites or resources they recommend to brush up my knowledge on the 1800s New Orleans lifestyle, I’d greatly appreciate it.

For now I’m basking in the glow of a novel that’s passed my first round of rigorous edits. Here are a few other ideas I had for my NaNo novel, but I’m shelving them for another time:

  • Under My Dad’s Cape – Life isn’t always perfect being the daughter of the city’s beloved superhero. In fact, sometimes it can be downright cruddy. Meredith Sumner tells how her father’s heroic activities have left her by the wayside, and how she thinks he should be using his powers for more important matters than killing giant lizards. Kind of a political commentary on society.
  • Mr. Cloom’s Garden – Shaleigh has been growing more and more frustrated with her life. She spends more time on her various electronic devices instead of talking to her Dad because he’s too busy with his academic career. Ever since her mom left them when she was young, Shaleigh’s father just hasn’t been the same. On top of that, her only friend at school has started ignoring her, and Shaleigh doesn’t understand why. If only she was the fairy princess her parents wanted her to be when she was young, maybe she’d be happier. Turns into an “other world” fantasy novel.

Anyway I’ve been getting a ton of ideas for books lately. If only I had the time to write all of them!

Fall is Coming

So this is not normally how I bring in the fall season, getting felled by some weird stomach bug, but sometimes you can’t prepare for things like this. Sometimes life has other plans for how to appreciate the chillier mornings. Last week I ended up working from home most of the time which made me feel rather more like a slug, and of course co-workers were wondering what had happened to me, you know how that is.

Today I spread some bug killer throughout the yard and tackled the laundry, so I guess that means I’m feeling better. I got the second round of info sent to Zharmae last week, so that’s out of the way. Edits have been coming along slowly but surely with Pikes Peak. I think I’m almost halfway through the manuscript before I start sending it off to my two friends who are my initial editors. I’m excited to see it coming along, and the cleaned up version is going to be quite enjoyable methinks.

Anyway I’ve got company coming soon, so I’d best stop being lazy. Hope everyone is having a great second day of Fall!

Two Down, One to Go

Woot! I finished my edits for both of my Big Bang fanfiction pieces! *Happy Dance*

I still have a whole novel to finish revising and editing, but to celebrate getting these two done I’ll be using a piece from My Life as a Dead Man: Regulus Black, Post-Mortem for my Six Sentence Sunday choice. I have no clue if I’ll have anybody get annoyed at me using fanfiction instead of original fiction, but oh well. Writing is writing in my book, and both of these were a blast to work on.

As the Seventh Month Dies – Done & Ready for Big Bang Posting.
My Life as a Dead Man: Regulus Black, Post-Mortem – Done & Ready for Big Bang Posting.

Suzie’s Nightmare is the next piece on my radar. Looking forward to diving in!