Self-editing, part one

I edit as I write. If I let the words flow without any polishing, I wind up wallowing in the depths of self-loathing. Well, or writing-loathing. My self-talk becomes all about what a terrible writer I am and how bad the words are and how stupid what I’ve written is and how no one could ever enjoy reading it. I know everything can be fixed in editing, but if I don’t do some self-editing along the way, I get stuck.

What sorts of edits do I mean? Mostly tightening and smoothing–changes that harken back to one of the fundamental rules of The Elements of Style, “omit needless words.” For example, the above paragraph began life as:

I do a lot of editing as I write, although I wish I wouldn’t. But I’ve definitely discovered that for me, if I simply let the words flow without doing any polishing of them at all, I wind wallowing in the depths of self-loathing. Well, or writing-loathing. The loathing state where my self-talk is all about what a terrible writer I am and how bad the words are and how stupid what I’ve written is and how no one could ever possibly enjoy reading it. I know that we’re supposed to remember that everything can be fixed in editing, but if I don’t do some self-editing along the way,

I stopped when I began to start editing it, cut-and-pasted, then finished editing the original paragraph and ended it. And then, I have to admit, I went back and made a few more edits. I actually try not to edit my blog posts because a blog post for me is just an exercise in getting my fingers moving. My goal with these posts is to kick my brain into gear and my fingers into motion, so that I start the writing that matters to me, my fiction, ready to move, not agonize over each word. It’s a warm-up, a practice session. Despite that, I still edit, because I can’t stop myself.

Unlike the post-draft editing–in which I’m systematic and rigid–my in-draft editing is mostly intuitive. My natural writing is wordy and meandering. Often I write around an idea, trying to understand what I’m trying to say even as I type it. I’ll write a paragraph or three, and then immediately go back and clean it up, deleting words that don’t add value, tightening, getting rid of adverbs, adding stronger verbs, fixing passive constructions. And then I move on. Obviously, I also fix typos! My “first” drafts often appear to have very few mistakes, but that’s because every paragraph has already been gone over two or three times, at minimum.

If you don’t write that way, good for you. Don’t start. It’s slow and time-consuming and undoubtedly a major reason why it takes me so long to finish a manuscript. But I’ll be using examples in this series of posts from my own work, so do bear in mind that all of my “first” drafts have been edited along the way.

On my next post, I’ll talk about my first edit round: the big picture edit.

*****

Meanwhile, today I’m going to work on writing a Eureka fanfiction. I have one unfinished story that I started three years ago, and I’ve made it my goal to finish writing it this week. It’s been surprisingly challenging in really fun ways–over the course of the year that I wrote Eureka fanfiction obsessively, I wrote multiple versions of the characters. This story returned to the canon characters, but it turns out that some of the versions of the characters I wrote are more real to me than the show’s versions. I wrote an AU (alternate universe) story in which two characters changed positions, and I have to keep fighting not to let those characters take over the story I’m writing now. That probably doesn’t make any sense, but I probably can’t explain it any better without getting deep into the nitty-gritty of what happened and who the characters were. Suffice to say, I’m enjoying digging deep into these characters again.

I’m also loving my technological inventions. The most fun part of my Eureka stories were the crazy science & gadgets I invented. In this case, one of characters created an invisibility worm that she sent viral. No digital media–which is all just bits and bytes–records her existence. Or rather computers delete her image whenever it appears in their databanks. It couldn’t really be done without vastly superior recognition technology than we have today and the side-effects from errors would probably be dazzling, since individuals aren’t so easily differentiated, but it’s fun nonetheless. I loved making up crazy technology and mixing ideas.

I got an incredibly lovely message from a former colleague yesterday in which she told me that I was “truly gifted as writer, storyteller, imaginer,” and I so, so loved the last word in her list. I know spell-check is saying that it’s wrong, but it makes me happy!

Okay, over 800 words of babble. The fingers are warmed up. Away I go.

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