Friday, May 22, 2009


Another aspiring author who's doing what I'm doing...blogging his "newbie" experience, just wrote a post about editing and how much he hates it. I was very relieved to find this is not unique to me. Two words:

It sucks.

But why? For me, it's a couple of reasons. I made a couple of major no-no mistakes in my original draft. A lot of my book takes place in my main character's head so there were large chunks of story exposition with no action or dialogue. I'm fine with that as a reader but agents hate it. Because editors hate it. Since it's their job to know what readers like I'm guessing other readers hate it. So there were sections of my book I really liked that had to be complete do-overs. There's also the tricky "If it doesn't forward the plot, cut it" rule. That one is tough because sometimes there is a detail or conversation that develops a character or relationship with no direct bearing on the plot. Judgment call. The other thing I realized about my style is that I have an obsession with semi-colons and extraneous modifiers. I spent one very boring day using the search function of my word processing program. Once I removed the words "actually" and "a little" (I allowed two instances each to stay but everything else had to go) the manuscript was TWO PAGES shorter. Two single space pages. Two whole pages of useless words. The semi-colons had to be found the old-fashioned way. I re-read the whole thing, breaking almost every sentence with a semi-colon into two shorter sentences.

Editing takes a lot longer than writing and it isn't especially creative. The part about writing the book was fun. (I'm fighting the urge to insert a semi-colon here.) The story was burning me up and I couldn't wait to get the next part down. I couldn't write it as fast as it was coming into my head. And the coolest thing was that sometimes the characters wouldn't do or say the things I thought they would. They really were getting their own personalities. It's like having your very own socially acceptable multiple personality disorder. Once the story was down, though, I was ready to see what they would do next. As in next book. They were still talking in my head all the time and doing their own things. But book one isn't ready for prime time yet so editing must happen despite the yen to get back to the fun part. I've indulged in about 150 pages of fun part while I was supposed to be editing...I can't help it. Plus another almost whole book completely unconnected with the first one. That book was fun but total crap. I'll keep it for me but otherwise it will never see the light of day.

So now I'm panicking about getting book one cleaned up enough for its virgin voyage into queryland. I need about a week locked in the basement to devote solely to editing and a magic pill to instill discipline. Since I won't get a week in the basement I'll just have to work on the discipline thing. Damn.


  1. Laurel,
    I believe Kerouac used magic pills. Oh, but he wasn't real fond of editing either.

    You should be able to do a search for semi-colons in Word. They're excellent things but yeah, I just finished editing a story for someone else and took out almost every one of them.

    Modifiers are awful. I see it in my writing and in other peoples': an attempt to make something precise that only makes it vague.

    As to fun but total crap: sounds marketable from here. Just use a pseudonym if you want to keep it separate from your other writing.

    Cheers; I have two manuscripts in progress and have threatened myself with going back to the first if I struggle with the second. The good news is, even an incomplete novel is apparently worth dozens of pictures.

  2. Thanks! Glad I'm not the only one.

    That must be it. I'm the next Kerouac.

    What is it with those stupid modifiers? They're irresistable when you write them. I guess it's how we talk.

  3. Hey Laurel,
    My favorite words were "just" and "then". I had a ton of them in my second book. My editor joked after she took them all out, it was a novella instead of a novel length book. At least, I think she was joking. I also had a semi colon problem as well. I'm much better now, but wonder how I passed English 101 in college.

  4. Oh, yeah. Lots of "just" and "then". And an occasional "just then" for good measure.