June 28, 2011

How To Edit Your Novel With (Something Like) Objectivity

After a year-long hiatus, I'm finally in full editing mode for Spellbound (soon to be called... something else). I did another novel Incident Report and figured out that (cue cringe) more than three-fourths of the novel needs to be rewritten or tossed. Big things need to happen: a villain needs to be added and a protagonist needs to go. I'm shocked that there was ever a time when I couldn't see these things, but I couldn't. I took a year-long editing course in 2010 and still couldn't. I've been wondering what it is that's given me the objectivity I needed to see all of my novel's flaws.

A beloved teacher and writer once told me that editing one's own work requires two things above all others: the ability to be Detached and Methodical. In editing my own work (and working as a professional editor where being methodical was practically a religion), I think I've pinpointed the things that help writers to be these two important things:

1. Create some distance. Most parents wills tell you that it's difficult to be objective when it comes to their kids. For writers, its the same way. They struggle to take criticism and to dole any out because, well, their characters and plot line are perfect JUST THE WAY THEY ARE. But you have no way of knowing that until you can look at them with some objectivity. I find the best way to create objectivity is giving it time. I put Spellbound away--didn't look at it, barely thought about it--for almost a year. That's a really long time, but it's enabled me to step away from the story and view it as someone else would, with fresh eyes. You don't have to wait a year to feel this effect: even a few days can help.

2. Create some distance by making it look 'real'. Get your book printed out and bound. Making it look all shiny and professional performs some kind of magic trick, making it easier to see the work as someone elses. Seeing it as someone elses helps you to rip into it without so much angst. Lately, I've also discovered the lovely effects of putting your book onto your Kindle. All you have to do is email the document as an attachment to your Kindle account and put 'convert' in the subject line, and bam: the thing looks like any other book you've got on there. Reading through my drafts this way really helps me get some objectivity.

3. Create an editing checklist. I learned this once the hard way when editing travel guides. Editing--no matter what it is you're editing--is hard. It's overwhelming and hard. But in order to be efficient at it, you need to break it down into manageable steps. When I proofed travel guides, I wrote out checklists for myself. If I was in the proofing stage, they would look something like this:

- check that page numbers are present/correct
- proof photo captions
- Make sure that photos are placed correctly
- make sure that all map icons and headings are correct
- check that photo credits are present and correctly spelled... etc.

I'd go through spread by spread, making sure to tackle every element I needed to check as part of an individual step. When you look through a manuscript for everything that could be wrong all at once, it's impossible to catch it all. But when you break it up you miss fewer mistakes, and the ones that are there are clearer to you. Try a checklist out. It's MAGIC.

4. Start from the end. I always used to read my stuff front to back, over and over. The problem is that once you get to the end, your editing eyes (and editing brain) are all sorts of tired out. Sometimes reading from back to front helps bring back some objectivity and lets you see your work in a whole new light.

5. Ask for help. Get someone you trust to read your work. I've got critique partners who will give it to me straight up, without any fruity syrup or dollops of whip cream. Critique can be painful, but it can help you more than anything else can.

I'm fixing to rewrite/fix up a scene a day of Spellbound until I've got an all-new-and-improved second draft. Hopefully in about a month's time I'll have something to show for it.

1 comment:

  1. My Kindle is a lifesaver for editing, something about having it in front of me like a real book makes the editing process so much easier.