The dangers (?) of Editing

An eye-catching post title at Writer Unboxed: The Dangers of Editing

What could that mean?

–Getting lost in research wonderland and never emerging? But that really isn’t editing, so:

–Getting trapped in never-ending attempts to make everything utterly perfect, so that you never hit publish? That seems more likely.

–Trying to solve one problem and making changes that accidentally screw up something else in some awful way? Not that I would know anything about that. Except it’s wise not to delete older versions of your manuscript until you’re quite, quite certain the most recent version is the one that is actually going to move forward. As a side note, you’re not really certain of that until you hit publish and/or reach the page proof stage of the traditional publication process, whichever.

–Trying to apply too many people’s incompatible advice? (Make it more commercial! Make it more literary!)

–Trying to apply ONE person’s advice, but the advice is wrong for the book or wrong for you, so you lose what is good about the original book? I’m sure that happens. I’m pretty stubborn, and I don’t generally pay that much attention to advice unless my response to that advice is OF COURSE! WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME THAT I DIDN’T SEE THAT? Which is, in fact, often my response. I think it’s (often) quite clear when advice is totally correct versus totally off-base. But I could see a writer tying herself in knots for this reason.

So, what does the author of this post actually have in mind?

I edit books for a living, so I know it’s true that writing is rewriting. But I’ve sometimes seen clients fall into editing traps that can cause real damage to their work.  Although some simply waste valuable writing time, others get so caught up in the wrong kind of editing that they either lose sight of or actually blot out their vision of the book.

Okay, so that’s sounding more like my last suggestion above.

All right, the author of this post is actually listing out different kinds of editing traps. Here they are, in brief — click through to read the whole post —

a) Starting to edit too early

If you start delving into detailed rewrites before your story, with all of its interconnected character and plot threads, is in place, then you are probably not doing all the editing you need.  You cannot know how a character’s voice should sound until you know who they become.  Nor can you judge the importance of descriptive details or the relative weight of different events until you know where your story is going. …  

Hmm. I sort of agree. But not really. I am pretty sure you can and do know your character’s voice from the beginning. How else can you write the character?

I imagine someone who writes from a detailed outline (not me, in other words) can re-write as they go. But I can too. I find polishing one scene helps me get into the next scene. It’s not a waste of time — it helps me move forward. That’s true even if I wind up cutting the scene later.

There are times I write a transition scene or whole chapter even though I have a pretty good idea I’m going to cut that material later. But it’s not a waste of time. Sometimes I just need to write that extra scene or chapter in order to get to the next scene or chapter.

It’s true, though, that when someone says they’re stuck four chapters in and can’t get farther, the best advice may be: quit looking at those four chapters and put words in a row until you have a lot more chapters.

b) You can also start too late, working and reworking entire drafts to try to nail down details that can only become clear through line-by-line editing.

Hmm. I’m trying to imagine what this means. Having read the explanatory paragraph, I’m still not entirely sure. Line-by-line editing IS editing.

Well, moving on.

c) Editing way beyond the point of diminishing returns.  … I promise you, you will always find something else to fiddle with.

Yes, that’s one I had in mind. It can be tough to declare your baby is all grown up and throw it out of the nest into the world, but you certainly have to do that eventually. It’s absolutely true that you will never, ever open that manuscript and find nothing to do. You will always, always fiddle with commas. And you’ll probably be right to fiddle with commas! But you have to stop sometime and toss the fledgling out to fly.

As a side note, for obvious reasons I wasn’t interested in trying to actually work on anything last night. I re-read little bits of Tarashana instead. I immediately noticed commas I would like to fiddle with.

It’s always the commas. There’s just no end to fiddling with commas.

Anyway, moving on —

d) Fear of letting go.

That’s a thing, but it has nothing intrinsic to do with editing.

Not a bad post, really!

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3 thoughts on “The dangers (?) of Editing”

  1. I once posted one paragraph on a Usenet writing newsgroup, and a published (and somewhat famous) writer rewrote it for me. It didn’t fit any more, of course, because it was theirs, not mine, so I deleted it and fixed the hole it left, and self-published the book years later. I (and I think nobody else) can still see the stitches of the patched hole.

  2. Also, whenever you are writing and not certain which of two details to use, put down both. Then you can pick one at leisure. Very unpleasant to come back and discover that you are quite certain you picked the wrong one but can’t quite remember which was the other one.

  3. Mary, you are so, so right. That’s happened to me a couple of times. These days I definitely try to make a note of the second detail, description, option, plot direction, whatever, just in case.

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