Sunday, May 27, 2018

If Writing Is An Art by Betsy Ashton

then editing is a craft. For me, writing the initial draft of any work brings me a freedom to put anything, and I do mean anything, down on paper. I love getting out of my characters' way and let them have free rein. That first draft may be full of purple prose, misnamed characters, characters whose physical features change from sentence to sentence. I don't worry.

Once I've finished the first draft, I sit back and think about the characters first. What do they look like? How do they speak? What do they carry in their pockets or purses? I make a list of all these things, so that when I begin crafting a story, I have a reference point. Notice I do this AFTER I've written the first draft. Nothing can restrain the initial gush of story.

I then return to each chapter. Is it necessary? Does it move the story along? Does it have or need conflict? What happens in it? If I can't see the chapter moving the story forward, I cut it out of the longer manuscript and copy it into a file called [Working Book Title] Parking Lot. I may need it again. I may not, but at least it's not lost.

That done, the fun begins. I mean it. Editing is fun, painful at times, but fun, because that's when I shape the story. Think of a potter at her wheel. She slaps a blob of wet clay in the center and begins spinning the wheel. Gradually, through a deft touch and no small amount of luck, she shapes the clay into a vase or bowl or whatever the clay wants to become. Words are like clay. Story is like the wheel. My hands are merely a means to revealing a story, much like the hands of the potter pulling a shape from the blob.

Editing is plain hard work. Early drafts are, for me, broad brush strokes to see where the story falls apart. It will, because it hasn't been finessed at all. Secondary drafts are where I look at every word in every sentence. Is it the right word to convey what I want? Is it a cliche that has to die a rapid death by Delete key? Is it trite, original, fresh, stale? Sometimes, it takes several drafts before I can set a chapter aside. After a few weeks, after I've finished all the other chapters, I sit back and reread from page one to "the end."

Oh what was I thinking? What drivel? No one will ever want to read this. It sucks. Oh, wait, what? That chapter is really pretty good. So is the next one. I think about what makes each chapter sing. I try to replicate it.

And then I ask my loyal beta readers to dive in. Usually, this leads to more revelations about what needs to be fixed. Some are such good readers they can suggest what they expected to read. After a few more edits, I'm finally ready. I put the book out into the world. I cross my fingers in hopes people like it. I read reviews, even the one-star reviews. I engage with readers on social media or old school by phone, in person, or email. Each interaction, each engagement, helps me become a better writer.

I'm in the midst of the secondary draft stage of a book called Out of the Desert, a novel in stories. So far, one chapter of fourteen sings on key. The others are still slightly off key. More work to be done. Bye for now.


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Jannine Gallant said...

Our processes couldn't be more different! I don't write a dirty first draft. EVER! I can't. Each morning I edit what I wrote the day before. When I finish a chapter, I edit it. By the time I write "the end" I need only one read-through edit to clean up any inconsistencies, and then it goes to my CP before I do one final edit and send it off to my publisher. Your method would make me crazy. I'm sure mine would choke the creativity right out of you! Funny how we're all so different. Best of luck making all those chapters sing, Betsy!

Vonnie Davis said...

I can't write a dirty first draft either. Each chapter gets edited until I feel it's the best I can do. Then I'm able to move onto the next. I also develop my characters in a Character File I keep open along with the manuscript one. Calvin always told me to write a dirty first draft. Just get the story down and then go back and edit. I've tried. I can't do it. I have too many bad habits I need to stay on top of: over-used words, keeping my characters voices distinct, and not going deep enough into emotions. I don't use beta readers either. We all write differently. I typically work on 3 stories at a time, too. My process is as skatter-brained as I am.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Thanks for sharing your process, Betsy. I like the 'dirty draft' idea. Turns out, even what I think is clean...and send out to my book club and other 'first' really, really rough. My editor says so on her first go-through. I get a few more people to weigh in on the accuracy issues after I've addressed my editor's concerns. Then I rework the dirty, rough thing to make it better and ship it back to my editor. Once I've got her recent concerns dealt with, I'm ready for two beta readers. Soon after I have those responses, I tinker a little more and send the puppy out to the formatter. It's like making sausage, I always say. It ain't pretty!

Betsy Ashton said...

I love how different we are as writers, fellow roses. That's what makes writing so much fun. No one approaches a story in the same way. Write away, Write now

Leah St. James said...

I can't do dirty drafts either, and I have also had a number of people tell me to "just get the story down." I can't do it. I swear my last attempt at NaNoWriMo is what sent me into a 2-year writing funk! I edit as I go along, but my manuscripts still need a heavy-duty "craft" edit when I'm done. I look for overused words and do a a "sensory" check, and a detail check. I guess I'm somewhere between you and Jannine and Vonnie. It is fascinating how different our processes are!

RE Mullins said...

Love reading all the different processes. So far mine has changed a bit with each book.

Brenda Whiteside said...

I lie somewhere in between. I'll edit a chapter one time then send it out to my crit partners. After that, I'll edit again. Once the whole book is done, I make several editing passes.

Diane Burton said...

My first draft has had a lot of back & forth writing in it. If I discover something in, say, chapter 6 that affects something in chapter two, I have to fix it then. By the time I've finished the "first" draft, it's in pretty good shape. I still have work to do, though. Good luck!