EVERY WRITER ANSWERS THIS QUESTION
It has become common for writers to tell other writers how to write.
Unless they are discouraging other writers deliberately to keep the competition down!
And every writer who has any control (beginners can often see only one way to do things) constantly makes choices:
- Is this word the best word for this use?
- Will MY readers think this is pretentious – or the reason they read ME?
- If I use a sentence fragment as part of my style, or this particular character’s mental processes, or [select reason] – will MY readers get their panties in a twist?
- Can my intended readers follow plot complexities?
- And – most importantly – am I limiting myself by the way I prefer to write?
All of these are valid questions, all have to be answered regularly, all have many answers.
How to choose?
I’m asking myself these questions, as usual, because I just finished the last two scenes in a chapter, and it took me two whole days of using AutoCrit (my online editing program) to get the text the way I wanted it.
Two whole days of whatever brainpower I could muster is still a lot of hours.
And they are hard work. Choices come down to nuance, nuance to familiarity, familiarity to everything I’ve ever read – and processed.
For an example, I’ll put up a section of these scenes, and show the differences:
There are hundreds of little changes between when I’m finished with the story and when I’m finished with the language.
The original was fine, with nothing hugely wrong.
But I’ll find I overused a particular word or phrase.
Or a piece of dialogue doesn’t sound like the character (Cecily, like Andrew, is Irish).
In fact, just as I finished checking the above comparison, I realized I’m missing two places where my tiny intimation of the speaker being Irish is incorrect (I use ye’re – but still have you’re) – and that will be checked several more times before publication.
This section comes from Scrivener – and is missing italics. I’ll have to check to make sure those are as I want them, as discussed in a post on my stylistic choices.
I do my own editing
This is a statement of fact, not a battle-cry.
I found early that my brain is too damaged to do the negotiating, arguing, back and forth, discussing – that goes with having someone else edit your work.
And that it was easier for me to take on the task, plus it forced me to improve my bad habits immediately.
I like the control. I accept the responsibility. And the mistakes I make will get corrected asap if egregious, with the next major revision if minor.
And there isn’t an ant’s chance with an anteater that I’ll have to defend my own choices: nobody can possibly know my style better than I can.
I have the sense to use an excellent beta reader – and always pay attention to what she catches or notices (she’s usually right).
For someone like me, it even saves a lot of time (a relatively expensive commodity for me). Because I handle a single scene (up to maybe 3k) at a time, and it’s familiar to me because I just wrote it, so I don’t have to reload anything into my memory.
The pitfalls of that are obvious: the mistakes will get overlooked because they are so familiar. So I have many passes for just one thing. I have checklists. I keep a list of the things I haven’t mastered.
Nothing’s perfect, but that does get a lot of the little typo buggers.
Is it ‘good enough’?
Yes – after I put the hours, the work in.
Is it getting easier? Yes – if I still put the hours in, and the work, and don’t try to shorten the editing phase by getting impatient to finish.
I think it matters.
It does make me very slow.
I think it’s worth the effort.
Does lack of editing in published work irritate you? Do you notice it?
Thanks again to Stencil for the ability to create graphics – and their free account. If I ever need more than ten a month, I’ll get their paid subscription!
I’m really liking these writerly posts 🙂 … I’m rather fond of editing. It’s akin to taking sandpaper to a rough piece of wood, and with each pass using a finer grade of paper until it’s all shiny. 🙂
I’m fairly even-tempered about editing goofs when I’m reading, so long as it’s only a few per book. Any more than that and I tend to get quite cross, because there’s no excuse for it other than a deliberate choice by the writer. (or editor)
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I work hard on eliminating mine – and I don’t think too much of authors who make very bad basic ones, and publish without removing them. If they can’t tell, it means they are in need of a lot more help.
I read ONE book because it was entertaining otherwise, but the author hadn’t bothered to get its and it’s clear, and every single time I ran into one it was wrong and my brain came to a halt! Last time ever – and I said so in the review (after pointing out the book was good).
I’m sure it limited his audience.
But I can’t imagine how it got through ANY editing process that would leave that error thousands of times in a book.
If I never see certain errors again it will be too soon.
If I never see another plural with an incorrect apostrophe it will be too soon.
There is an advice column on The New York Times called Social Q’s. I can’t bear it.
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Stylistic choices that I wouldn’t necessarily make myself don’t bother me, but objectively bad writing such as comma splices, impossible dialogue tags (example: “So it has come to this,” he sat down.), or dangling participles bother me a lot. (I have read books with errors — multiple errors — on every page, and I don’t mean ones I was in the process of editing for someone. When I’m reading for enjoyment, I don’t want to be jarred into copyeditor-mode.)
Yup. I don’t make it past the first page of some books.
If they’re written by friends, I cite my policy of never reading for friends.
The sad part is that dialogue tag COULD have been rewritten to NOT cause pain:
“So it has come to this.” He sat down. “If only you’d told me…
It’s the WAY it’s written in your quote that drives me to distraction and copyeditor mode.
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I do my own editing too, in many passes. When I’m happy with it, I send it off to a scifi writer friend to beta. We actually beta for each other. It works well because there’s a heck of a lot of trust. Honesty to, but trust first. 🙂
My problem with editing is that it never ends, and sometimes, instead of improving things, I actually make things worse. I guess it’s part and parcel of being a writer. Thanks for sharing!
I think of it more as an envelope that keeps getting narrower – most things improve; a few might disimprove – so I may waffle a bit on some changes.
But I’m usually happy with the results as long as they’re subtle and I have a solid reason for them.
Almost everything I’ve done to change Andrew (or Cecily, in her few scenes) gives me a chance to use some of the things I’ve noted while listening to Irish radio: ways of saying things, order of words, even the words themselves. And I change them so they are not your standard American English.
It isn’t an obvious thing, and it makes the characters subtly different. Lightly, lightly.
The only time errors in editing become irritating is if they appear on every page.
But, I cannot remember a book that I have read that was that bad.
If anything, I don’t notice any mistakes in the books I read if they are there. Once a good story sucks me in, a missing comma or some other minor error a grammar Nazi would catch goes unnoticed.
I might rarely see something that I wouldn’t have done (that doesn’t mean it was incorrect just sloppy sounding in my hed), and I find myself editing it in my mind before I read on and soon forget it.