Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How to Walk The Fine Line of Editing

Quote of the Day:
Listen, then make up your own mind.
~Gay Talese

As I am once again embarking on that long road of editing and revising, my mind has been much occupied of late by what my crit buddies will do to my poor little fledgling manuscript. Make no mistake, I want them to shred it to pieces. I want to see it covered in so much red that I think it’s bleeding. Yet, there is always the small hope that they will read it, love every word, and send it back with the caption “It’s perfect! Don’t change a thing!!”

Hey, we’ve all got our fantasies ;-D

While I’ve been writing (rewriting, revising, editing) steadily for the last three years or so, this is only the second novel I’ve ever finished. I’ve got several files containing partially written manuscripts. Most never made it past chapter 3. So, now that I have completed another entire novel, I’ve been thinking back to when I finished my first book.

I was so excited. What a rush! To sit and look at the words THE END and realize you have written AN ENTIRE BOOK. Seriously, very few things in my life can compare to the sense of accomplishment I felt when I looked over what I had done.

Little did I know that the journey was just beginning.

Now at the time, I had no writer friends, I didn’t belong to any critique groups, I had no beta readers, and I was only just beginning to find online writer forums. (The first one I belonged to was so harsh and horrible I almost hung up my pen for good.) I did do some research on query letters, wrote the best draft that I could, and I sent some out.

And the rejections started pouring in. Although, I did get a full request from Roberta Brown, one of the queens of romance writing. I could not even tell you how thrilled I was! Yet, when I think of the manuscript I sent her, I want to hide under my bed, change my name, and flee the country.

I finally found Querytracker.net and became friends with an incredible group of people. I became a part of QT when it was just starting out…had I followed my instincts when I first found them, I might have been the very first person to sign up. But halfway through the register process, my paranoia took over and I decided that it was just too good to be true. A few months later, I got smart and joined up. I also found a critique group, a few good betas, and started the long process of whipping my manuscript into shape.

The point of this long ramble is that when I first started, I was under the impression that everyone else knew better than I did what should and shouldn’t be in my book. I would accept every single suggestion, sometimes even though I didn’t agree with it. I didn’t stop doing this until one day, someone made a suggestion that I really REALLY didn’t want to incorporate.

I looked at the sentence after I had changed it, and it didn’t even sound like I had written it. It did, however, sound like the woman who had suggested the change. And I finally realized that while I was going to get some really good revision ideas, some things just needed to be left alone. I was letting everyone edit the voice out of my book…I was removing what made me the book MINE.

I still have a hard time, sometimes, leaving suggestions alone. I tend to think that if someone had a problem with what I wrote, there must be something wrong with it. But this isn’t always, or even often, the case. This business is one of the most subjective I’ve ever seen. Everyone is going to have an opinion on what they read, and those opinions will rarely mesh.

So my rule of thumb now is to wait on my revisions until all my critique buddies have weighed in (unless what was pointed out is something I whole-heartedly agree with or it’s a glaringly obvious mistake). If more than one person points it out, then I know I probably need to change it. And if it’s something that I still don’t want to change, I wait and see how many people think it should be worked on. If only 2 out of 7 readers think the change needs to be made, I’ll probably leave it alone. If the majority agree on it, then I know I have a problem that needs work.

But deciding what stays and what goes can be a tricky and fine line to walk. How do you handle it?


Scott said...

I go with my instinct. I read all the comments/suggestions, make the changes I truly feel will help, and leave the things that I just can't bear to change. In the end, I have to go with my gut!

Still, I'm with you that there is definitely a fine line we must walk during the editing process. One wrong step and the heart of the project might be cut out. One right step, and the project becomes just that much better!

So, I weigh the ultimate decision to change or not to change very closely before I begin to delete and/or change something.


Novice Writer Anonymous said...

Generally I look at the spot where suggestions on revision have been made, ignore what they've told me to write, and just think about how I want to say what's there better. Then I might go back and look at revision suggestions from others and incorporate those, but I always take what my critiquers say with a grain or handful of salt.

Anonymous said...

Great post - I had the same difficulty when I first started having novels critiqued...I've learned a lot since then, and in the words of one of my fav. rit buddies..."you're, the author, Christine, you know how it should go..."

Thanks for the great post!

B.J. Anderson said...

I take everything with a grain of salt and only change it if I want to. Lol, I'm a brat.

Rebecca Knight said...

Wow! Great topic :).

I find that whenever I'm on the fence about changing something, I get a 2nd opinion. If the other person doesn't agree, then I know it's not Universally Wrong. If they do, I know it's an issue.

My beta readers are amazing, but I also leave things in if I had them there for my particular "style," and I can tell it's a subjective thing. Sure, I know that's a fragment sentence, but it's there for effect, etc.

I think before you take a critique you have to first trust yourself. Trust that you know your book. And then trust that you can sift the great suggestions from the ones that aren't right for you ;).

On the flip side, no one is perfect, so remember that all critiques are a blessing!

ElanaJ said...

It's all about author confidence--and it sounds like you've got it, girl! So keep it up!