Please welcome Erika Liodice, who was a semi-finalist in WU’s search for an unpubbed contributor. She wrote:
Like many writers, I wrote my first book when I was 5 or 6 years old. It was a story about a little girl with 18 brothers and sisters who had to share one bathroom (talk about conflict!). You’ll probably be surprised to hear that it was never picked up for publication. (Shocking, I know.)
I started seriously pursuing fiction writing four years ago. In that time I’ve completed two novels. Writing my first novel was like losing my literary virginity; I unknowingly did everything wrong, naively thought it was great and now just wish I could forget the whole ordeal.
Even though my first book failed to grab the attention of a literary agent, it did serve to teach me firsthand about the writing process and the business. Most importantly, it showed me how much I still needed to learn. Since then, I’ve invested a great deal of time and money into developing my craft through writing classes, conferences and dozens of books on the subject. Now, as I work through the editing process with my second novel, I feel much more confident about my manuscript’s chances to jump out of the slush pile and turn heads.
We know you’ll enjoy Erika’s post on editing as much as we did.
Editing: An Enlightened Approach
When it came to my first book (which is now safely locked in my desk drawer), I was so excited to “get ‘er done” that I really didn’t want to think about editing at all. I just wanted to jump straight to the good part: getting an agent and signing a book deal. But I’ve come to learn that agents and book deals only come to writers who put in the work up front. So today I’m going to share with you my enlightened approach to editing, which I’m following as I revise my new book.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that your first draft is NOT the place to edit yourself (although it’s very tempting). As a writing instructor once told me, “A novel sprout is a very delicate thing and too early or vigorous of a critique can damage it.” A first draft is about one thing and one thing only: getting words down on paper. Sometimes those words will be masterful works of art and other times they’ll just plain suck. But that’s all right because that’s what first drafts are for.
Of course, once your first draft is done, then the real work begins. It’s been said that most writing is rewriting, which brings us to the first phase of my enlightened editing process, a phase I like to think of as “big picture editing”. Imagine yourself at an art museum admiring a painting from twenty feet back. “Ah, yes, they’re water lilies,” you might say of Monet’s infamous oil series. Big picture editing works much the same way; you read through your work and evaluate it from twenty feet back. Think about the story as a whole, capitalize on its strengths and fix its weaknesses. Analyze your theme, plot, setting, characters, point of view, pacing, and structure. This is not the time to nitpick or worry about the fact that you’ve used the same word twice in one sentence. This is the time to make sure Dalí’s melting clocks didn’t make their way into your water lily pond.
Next come the “middle drafts”, which are like looking at the painting from 8-10 feet away. You’re still observing the work as a whole, but the details – the reflections in the pond, the contrast of the blues against the greens – come into focus. During this phase, dive into each scene and make sure your characters, descriptions, dialogue, pacing, voice and style bring your story to life, propel it forward and capture the reader’s attention.
The final phase is like standing in front of the painting with your nose an inch from the canvas. You’re no longer looking at the piece as a whole but examining each individual brush stroke. This “close-up” editing is where you analyze every word and sentence, rewriting them until they’re flawless. This is the time for all that nitpicking you’ve been dying to do. It’s also the time to channel your grade school English lessons, making sure your spelling, grammar and punctuation are impeccable. The goal here is to ensure that your ideas are clearly written and that your prose isn’t littered with unnecessary words.
I should warn you, making revisions can become addicting and if you don’t cut yourself off at some point, you might be making tweaks forever. Knowing when your manuscript is officially done is often nothing more than a gut feeling, but by following a thorough editing process you can rest assured that every word adds to the overall strength of your masterpiece.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s HarshLight