CanWrite! 2014: How to be your own editor with Farzana Doctor June 19


Farzana DoctorThat’s Dr. Farzana Doctor 😉

Learning to edit your work is learning to know when to let go. Maybe that’s what this workshop should be called: Let it go.

This is what I do. You don’t have to do what I do. Do what works for you in your process, but I hope you’ll find some interesting tips and techniques you can incorporate into your process.

First, a couple of definitions:

  • Prose editing is fine tuning: Spelling, grammar, syntax, usage.
  • Revision is substantive, structural, plot-related.

To start the editing process, you must have a completed piece of writing.

What was your intention in writing the piece? That core intention will guide you in the editing process.

Plan the process

Prose editing checklist:

  • Overused or repetitive words. First identify them. Everyone has her or his words. Then, use find and replace to address them.
  • Useless words (Mel’s note: also called zero words, because you can remove them from the sentence without changing the meaning of it) such as, just, only, that, actually, etc.. If you’re not sure what useless words are, Google it.
  • Grammar tics. Again every writer has a weakness. (Mel’s note: mine is commas. I either use too many or too few.)
  • Passive language. Examples: The biscuit was eaten by the dog (the dog ate the biscuit). She was jumping up and down (she jumped up and down).
  • Telling versus showing. Telling has its place, but avoid it where possible. Check your use of adverbs, adjectives, and clichés. These are often signs that you are telling, rather than showing.
  • Dialogue. Tags – do you need them, or would an action beat be better? Do all of your characters sound the same? Said is just fine. Read it out loud to see if it “sounds” right.
  • I start with editing first, because I find it easier. Some writers may not want to do this because it may mean too many wasted words when the revision stage is reached. Editing first works for me.

Revision checklist:

  • Where does the story begin? Is it too early, too late, is there enough action, conflict?
  • The protagonist. What does he want? What prevents him from getting it?
  • Other characters. If you can take her out of the story and not alter it, she should go. Every character should serve the story. Every character should be real, have a background, desires and frustrations of her own.
  • Keep track of plot and subplots. Structure.
  • Description. Is there too much or not enough?
  • Flashbacks. Do they stall the story?
  • Is the ending satisfying? Is it a resting place?

How to do it:

  • Focus. No distractions. Space. Set time, page number, or word count goals.
  • Separate new writing from editing and revision. Could be different times of the day, or different days.
  • Revision iteratively. Editing as you’re going. Must always make progress, however. S.J. Rozan’s method of Iterative Revision – Bookbaby. Start with previous day’s work, and then move on. It’s like a progressive spiral.
  • Change perspective. Step away. Change your font. Read aloud. Print it out. Draw maps. Pretend you are a reader.
  • Create a visual outline. Literally cut and paste your scenes and chapters.
  • Write a synopsis or jacket copy. Write a logline or tagline. Write a poem. Find your theme.

Asking for feedback

  • Who will you ask?
  • When is the best time to obtain a critique?
  • Be specific about what you want/need.
  • Stay general. When did you stall, get bored, get lost?
  • Receive your critiques without resistance. Set it aside. Decide what rings true. Ask for clarification (do not defend).

The rest of the workshop was spent reading and responding to the participants’ works-in-progress.


 

I must admit, I haven’t thought of purposefully editing first. I have edited too early before, and regretted spending all that time fixing scenes and even chapters that I would eventually delete. For me, I would think that revising first makes more sense.

Similarly, iterative revision doesn’t work for me. I get caught in an endless loop of going further and further back. It doesn’t prime the pump for me, it engages my inner editor too early in the writing process and stalls me.

Overall, I found Farzana’s workshop informative and practical.

I hope that you, too, will find something useful that you can use in your daily practice.

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