Edit Fest – Things that Surprise Me

May 4, 2013 at 1:47 am (writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

I make a point of not editing a novel manuscript until I’ve let it sit for at least three months, so I can approach it with a fresh perspective. I have this bare bones impression of the story that sticks with me, etched into my brain, but the rest fades from my thoughts once written out. When I get back to the story, it never reads like I remember it. This isn’t a bad thing though. Doubt always seeps in during those months away from it – that whole notion that the story can’t be all that great. Returning to the actual words written always surprises me, and usually in at least a somewhat positive way. I can’t imagine how I came up with certain unusual turns of phrases and quirky descriptions that seem original but fitting.

The feeling doesn’t last. I trudge my way through my editing, chastising myself for the little mistakes here and there and enjoying the things that seem to work, but once I’m done everything fades again. I think it’s pretty amazing. I have scenes that stuck with me in vivid detail for the better part of a decade because I didn’t have the opportunity to write them down, but the moment I did, I lost all but their basic essence, and the only way to get them back is by reading what I’ve written.

I’m wondering if this is common to many writers or something specific to me. It’s like I clear out my brain, wiping the slate mostly clean except for that faint chalk shadow. Call me a space cadet (in reference to a writer meme that happens to be floating around right now) but I think I have to do this to empty my head – otherwise things get too cluttered.

Anyway back to editing…

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4 Comments

  1. L. Marie said,

    I get that advice a lot: let a manuscript rest until you can look at it with fresh eyes. I didn’t believe it at first, but now I find that I need to do that to avoid writing the same old cliches or tired prose. I finally looked at a manuscript I put down over a year ago. It needs a ton of work. But I realized the chapters were in the wrong order, which makes it so choppy.

    • chantellyb said,

      Letting things sit before editing definitely helps me. I’ve never had the chapter order problem you had, but I’m guessing you must be a pantser, and as a die-hard plotter, I sort those details out ahead of time rather than fixing them after the fact. My editing is mostly copy-edits, restructuring sentences, and pulling out excess words. I rarely rewrite anything more than a paragraph here or there, although I have rewritten entire chapters in the past when they just didn’t work the way I wanted them to.

      • L. Marie said,

        Ha! You’re right. I’m a pantser! I wrote an outline for a book once–the very one I just mentioned. Finishing it has been very difficult for me, because the experience is so foreign to the way I usually write. When I revise, I wind up rewriting whole chapters, switching chapters around, changing characters, and other things.

  2. chantellyb said,

    Different things work for different people because our brains don’t all work the same way. I tried pantsing, but I could never finish anything. I need a strong grasp of the big picture from start to finish or there’s no point in me even trying. If I try pantsing, I get a few chapters in, completely lose focus and give up. I’ve been very successful as a plotter.

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