Thursday, May 5, 2011

Editing Extremism

Fledgling writers are eager for flight! Flight being publishing contracts, book signings, fans, and monetary gain derived from it all.

That is all very understandable and no successful author can deny those early days of learning whether in a classroom or through experiencing the road of hard knocks.

My experience has been one of Editing Extremism where I write a novel, short story, poem, or essay only to learn of my mistakes in grammar, sentence structure, or any number of goofs. Studying, reading blogs, reading books written about writing, reading novels, accepting serious critiques, and striving to become the best at the craft possible, sometimes can cause us to over correct much like driving down a road and swerving to avoid hitting an animal.

Sometimes, we swerve too hard and then have to swerve to avoid running off the road on the other side. A cop pulled me over once thinking I was a drunk driver – I was falling asleep at the wheel from driving too long too far. I sped up, swerved across the centerline, slowed down (falling asleep), and was disoriented when I stopped. Does that sound like it could be our writing methods?

Some of my earlier manuscripts have suffered from my “Drunk Driving...or Editing” swerves where I have thoroughly run amuck from ditch to ditch and even drove the WIP off the cliff into the gully far below (no hope for those).

In recent edits, I have learned to take a deep breath and firmly get a grasp on the steering wheel (my voice in one hand, and advice from all other sources in the other) and considered the road I was driving upon (the novel) with the goal or finish line (published) in view.

My Advice for what it's worth:

1. Save As. The files in my computer have multiple editing projects because I have learned to “save as” before I begin a major rewrite or edit because from experience of butchering a WIP beyond recognition, I like being able to put it in reverse and start again. In itself, this poses another problem – remembering which car you were driving last. In the latest revision, I type a note to myself at the top of page one – Current Edit with a date of edit. If you are tempted to delete the others because you are a neat freak, or suffer some sort of compulsive thing, make a promise to yourself to clean out all the scraps AFTER the final MS is published. That is the only time all the other stuff is no longer useful. Until then, ignore it.

2. Take critiques seriously, but not to extreme. Remember that all advice, critiques, and opinions are just that. They are useful, but after you have heard contradictory expert advice enough, you begin to sort them out and apply only the ones you need. What works for some does not mean it will work for you. Robert Fulghum dared to defy the accepted writing styles and became a best seller.

Be careful of extremes. Don’t be so careful that your writing is boring, yet don’t be so brazen that you scare people away. Establish your writing skills and once published, experiment with those extremes.

3. Make a list. One way to avoid extreme editing is create a log or record of all advice or critiques, or those blogs you read about how to write your books. By doing this, you are building your own “Elements of Style” where you can reference them or add to them after researching other sources. This list can help you weed out contradictions BEFORE swerving into a ditch.

If you have anything to add to this, or any links that are helpful for better writing tactics – you know, things that keep us fledgling writers OUT OF THE DITCHES, let me know. I will pin them to the bulletin board as well as the Writer’s Resources on my website.


  1. Great advice on editing. There also comes a point when you have to say that you're done with something and find closure. You can literally edit a manuscript forever I think.

  2. Yes, a manuscript can be edited to death. So many comments about an editor's hat makes me feel like surely it is glued to my scalp.

    Thanks for dropping by.