NaNoDodo Day 20: Editing

By Anne Perry

Posted on November 20, 2014 in Books with tags Nanododo, Writing Advice

You’re well-read, you write all the time, and now you’ve written something! Congrats! Not only that, but you’ve shared what you’ve written with a beta reader, and gotten your feedback. You’ve said thank you and spent some time turning your reader’s feedback over in your mind.

Now it’s time to edit your work.

Editing can – and generally should – be as difficult and time-consuming as getting the words down on paper to begin with. This is the point in the process where you’re going to be thinking about your work as hard or harder than you did while you were writing it. What does this scene accomplish? Is this character really doing everything she needs to do? Does the theme – if you wrote with one in mind – work? Or has something else emerged, that another draft could polish to a shine?

I don’t have specific rules for editing the way I do about getting your beta reader’s feedback. You’ll have to figure out what works for you – it may be taking a few weeks to work on something else before returning to the orignial project, or jumping right in. It may be rereading a clean copy and then editing, or it may be just getting straight into it. I don’t know. I don’t care! All that matters is that you find a system that works for you.

But the most important thing for you to keep in mind is this: kill your darlings. That’s famous advice, and it’s often quoted and often misunderstood. So let me tell you what it means: no matter how attached you are to something you’ve written – a turn of phrase or a nice sentence, a character, a chapter, a subplot, whatever – if it doesn’t work, cut it.

Yep. I don’t care how long you spent on it. I don’t care what significance it has, or if it’s your homage to your favourite film or it’s your favourite character or what. If it does not work in the novel, get rid of it.

I am not saying you should throw it away forever – authors including Patrick Rothfuss keep everything they cut from everything they work on. It will all come in handy eventually. Create a folder on your desktop to save cut material in, for example, and give what you’ve cut a temporary home there. But do not keep it in your novel.

The less precious you are about what you write, the better a writer you will become.

Personal anecdote time: my academic background is in history, where it is not unusual to spend a day, a week, a month, or even longer, researching something only to have it wind up in your thesis as a single line, or worse still, a footnote. But the great truth about writing history is this: 90% of everything you research will not appear in your final project. And if you waste time showing off all your research instead of getting to your point, you’ll fall prey to accusations of self-indulgence or worse. You will be a bad historian.

The sooner you get over yourself as a writer of history, the better a historian – and writer – you become.

The same is absolutely true of fiction. So kill your darlings. Or, at least, file them away for use in a future project.

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