Sunday 1 July 2012

Editing is the punishment for writing

There are writers who love editing. I'm not one of them. I have a friend who claims that the editing part is when the book happens that she had in her mind, as the draft/s before are just "raw material". I wish I had that disposition. I'm a one-draft writer. I may tinker and tighten and expand as I go from first draft (V.1) over several versions (V.1.1, V1.2...) to the draft I submit (V.2), and I rarely have much stuff left to deal with, because my first draft is *the* draft. I rewrite and edit as I write (which is one of the reasons why I'm physically unable to write 5k or 10k a day), and work in feedback from my test readers and peers, but generally speaking, it's rare that I rewrite a great deal.

And then my delusions of grandeur ("I'm a strong self-editor") hit reality in the shape of a hardcore editor. Incursion really became a totally different beast under Kristen's care, and my new story, Skybound, which I'm editing right now, is changing in subtle ways as Tiffany challenges everything that's not totally watertight. Once a good editor went through the text, I feel like a bloody beginner, a complete greenhorn.

Could I really be repeating "face" fifteen times on a single page? Could I really have five hands involved in a sex scene, even though we only have two guys in bed? The answer is usually yes. At some point, I get blind to the text, and then shit goes wrong, and that's when an editor catches me out before a reviewer catches me out and tells the world what a lazy idjit I am. Seriously, editors are my last line of defence against disgruntled reviewers and readers. Opening up my edits is always a test of faith and courage. As I scroll through the thousand comments and all the bits where I've been an idjit on the page, my heart sinks and I need a strong drink. Coffee, because it's going to be a long night.

Skybound is special, because it's short, and it's dense, with metaphors and images and meaning layered on top of each other in one tight, poetic package, and tinkering even with a sentence feels like it affects the whole. At just over 13k words, it does. Stories that are that short are much more like poems. As a friend who writes everything from novels to haikus once said: A novel can survive one bad chapter, a novella can survive a bad scene, but a short story really suffers from one bad sentence, and one bad word can kill a poem. I've found that to be very true (the reason why I don't write poetry? I'm not good enough to crystallise so much meaning into such a small space).

Skybound is like that short story. Editing this feels like brain surgery. It's going to be a tough sell in any case, so I'm working hard to get it just right, knowing that's impossible. But my editors at least nudge me into the right direction.

In vaguely related news, the co-project is moving along, my penicillin course is done (and funnily enough, once the pills were done I became productive again - maybe my Muse manifests as little bacteria in my blood - kill too many of them and I'm simply not writing...), I feel a great deal more perky.

But now I have to tackle the last 15 pages of Skybound. 


  1. Word up, dude. I HATE editing. I edit as I go too, simply because the more I edit now, the less I have to edit once the draft is finished. I admit I'm not great at editing -- I'm simply not objective enough about my own work -- which is why I LOVE the editing at Riptide. You guys rock.

    L. A. Witt

  2. Completely seen from the outside looking in......

    I would think editors (good ones at least) would be god sends for an author. I am sure you get caught up in the creation process and just go with the flow of the story that is pouring out. You need someone objective enough that can stand outside of that world and point out the shifting plates that if not sealed could spell disaster. I have yet to read a work from Riptide that wasn't completely tight so ton of kudos to them ;)

    Glad to hear you are feeling better.


  3. five hands and no fiction-super-alien-person included ? yes , that may be a problem , i can see that...i don't have the slightest idea what's editing like but i take your word that is an unpleasant thing to do.does it feel that your work , your story gets violated? just guessing.but , wait a minute.short story?that SF fans are gonna like?oh , this is precious !now i can't wait! please , please, PLEASE make it soon enough , before i explode!ok ,i'm a little excited , so what?i love my books , i love my Voinov and i always want more - deal with it.
    Love you , dear ,love your books :)

  4. I've never , ever in my life been a big fan of something.I mean something like a groopie.I thought the whole thing was absurd; i still do.But honey, after reading SF i was hooked.And i'm positive that i'm your biggest fan...
    And now i have to wait for Nikolai's story.Ughhh...
    You should have told me one day before it got published.
    I hate waiting.
    And you're a mean writer.
    But, still hooked :)
    Thank you :)

  5. I loathe editing. I tend to put my all into the first draft, too. I don't like having to go through 5,000 revisions. I'd rather get it as close to right in (more or less) one go. And then Samantha destroys it. When it's REALLY bad she actually calls me ^^; I just got edits back today and the only sentence in the email was 'ngl, I don't get this part of how this happened' so I'm noooot looking forward to cracking open the document :3 I get threatened regularly. "You need to stop doing this" and "I'm going to fucking kill you if you do this again". But she beats it into shape, and keeps me humble, as you said the other day ^__^ I hate editing, but I love editors. Good editors don't get enough credit, and I get so tired of writers who don't appreciate the effort that goes into editing.

  6. I love anyone who will edit my story and make points that can help me make it better. But there's always that twinge of fear and dread when I send my work off...

    Glad to hear you're finished the antibiotics and are feeling better :)

  7. I'm a good editor who'd rather be a great writer. I always feel like a garage mechanic who longs to be a race driver. I envy the stories that come so easily to you, and honestly, your work shows meticulous editing. You're too hard on yourself!