Sunday, October 24, 2010

Edting, The 11th Circle of Hell

There are probably dozens of authors who have something to say about the editing process.  "It's all in the editing."  No I'm not going to look up who said that.  "Writing is the easy part, editing is the hard part," not looking that one up either.  "Write drunk, edit sober," well...that one's pretty obviously Hemingway.

Just so we're clear, I hate editing.

Okay...that's not entirely true.  I like it in the sense that I know it is always making my work better.  It's just that getting me to do it is like herding cats.  (Which actually isn't that hard when you forget to feed them and start shaking the catfood bag.  They'll go anywhere you want.)  I have a friend, a man who goes to my Writer's Workshop, who loves to edit.  "Sometimes I edit things thirty times," he says with glee, while I look at him like he just told me he massacres and eats babies John Wayne Gacy style.  (He was the dude that ate people, right?)

I do like to edit, but I don't quite have that fervor.  I would much rather just be writing, but it can be extremely satisfying finding a new way to say a clunky sentence, to make a scene more vivid, or to add character depth.  So...how do I edit?  Well, it really depends on the work.

The Chosen and Arnett Tanner Wants to Die
The Chosen is my "first" novel in the sense that it was and is the first that I have and am attempting to publish.  Even though Cube Wars was completed long ago, I consider this to be my first novel for that reason.  I have a somewhat organized approach that I try to follow with each work.

Step 1:
Reading through and editing by hand with a trusty red pen.  I don't know why, but for some reason this is the way I prefer to begin the editing process.  Maybe because I have to write it slower and therefore I catch more, or maybe because it gives me more time to think about things.  Honestly, it's probably because it allows me to edit from my couch instead of my computer chair.  What I'm looking for here is the most obvious mistakes.  Sentences that are flat out retarded, typos, and misspellings, and things that are contradicted on the following page.

Unfortunately, it's a two part process because not only do I have to make the edits, I have to spend time transferring them to the computer.  Depending on how good the writing is, I do from 20-50 pages a day both in making the actual edits, and completing the transfer.  I like to turn this around in a week.

Step 2:
Read aloud edits.  Reading aloud is the greatest thing a writer can do.  No bad or confusing sentence can escape your wrath when you're reading aloud.  When I do this, I'm looking to fix anything that will make a potential reader mentally become a porche meeting a telephone pole at fifty miles an hour.  Nothing sucks more than having your eyes humming across a page only to come across a sentence that makes less sense than a lanyard stigmata goose.  Exactly.

This goes by a lot faster than you'd think.  I can get through fifty pages a day doing this easy, even if I have to stop often to fix things.

Step 3:
The liesure reading.  I actually haven't done this with the Arnett Tanner story yet, and I probably should.  After I've done the bulk of my edits, I try and read straight through in a day or two.  This allows me to pick up any stragglers that escaped the steps mentioned above, and get a feel for the emotional tone and pacing of the book as well as whether or not certain things make sense.

It's a pretty tough thing to accomplish as a writer because, hell, you wrote the damn thing, of course you understand it perfectly.  I think it helps to picture how things might translate into a movie (something I've been told is very evident in my writing style).  Yes, the visual and literary methods of telling a story are very different, but that's what the reader basically does.  They take your book and make it a movie in their head.  How do things translate?  Are certain scenes too short, even though they take forever to describe (see: final sequence, Half Blood Prince)?  Do you step away from a certain character for so long that the reader forgets what that character is doing?

The best books go something like this.  Holy shit, I love what this character is doing.  I can't to see what they continue doing!  Aw fuck the next chapter is about a different character...but they're doing awesome shit too!  Hey the chapter after that answers some stuff about the first character!  Hooray!

Step 4:
Profit?  Actually step four is to get people to read it so you can figure out what is unclear to someone who doesn't know every little detail about the story.  This can be tough because most people are either too afraid or just mentally unable to provide constructive comments.  (I already know my writing is good because I have a giant ego, tell me something else.)  As some other author once said "when people say that something is unclear, they are most often right.  When they offer ways to fix it, they are most often wrong."

I have some trouble with this, because I hate using my status as a friend to compell people to read my stuff.  Or people say they will, and then never get to it because they suck.  However, with The Chosen, everyone I know that I've given a chapter to read has asked for more.  That's unheard of.  No one wants to read an amateur writer's work.

Step 5:
Step five is take that huge novel that you love and condense it into a page long query letter, and one to two page synopsis that will get an agent's attention.  I think my query letters are good, but I have been unsuccessful at getting representation.  Basically, agents don't know their head from their asshole from their testicles from any other part of their body.  Every major writer has been rejected multiple times.

J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times.  Her first contract almost didn't even happen and was for a measly $2,200.  She's sold a book for every fifteen people on the planet (400 million).

Stephenie Meyer was also rejected 12 times.  Whether or not you think Meyer sucks, keep in mind she's sold a book for every sixty people on the planet (100 million).  (How would you like to be one of those twenty-four assholes?)

Stephen King was rejected several times.

e. e. cummings was rejected 17 times before he said fuck-all and self published (dedicating the book of poems to the 17 bastards that rejected him).

A few years ago a student proved that agents and publishers don't know what they hell they're doing when he sent exceprts from works by Jane Austen and was rejected by all but one publisher.

Step 6:
Step 6 is profit.  I want to be at Step 6.



The Cube Wars Anthology

Cube Wars took the six steps, killed them, and masturbated on their corpse.  I wrote it between the ages of 15 and 18, a period in my life when I apparently spoke no English.  There are no steps to Cube Wars, so I'll just run through bullet points.

  • I look like I knew English about as well as Paco, the farmhand in Texas whose driver's license is drawn on the back of a cereal box.
  • RANDOM FORMAT CHANGE FOR NO REASON!  Cube Wars is written as a diary, so there are dates everywhere.  Sometimes they are italic, sometimes they are bold.  No one really knows why.
  • Like I said, I hate to edit, and I hated it even more back then.  My editing method was "don't edit!  If you said something poorly, say it better in the next sentence!"  So in some spots, the same thought is reiterated like forty-eight times, all with varying degrees of skill.
  • Did spell check exist in 2001?  Apparently not.
  • We were running Windows 98 back then, which featured Microsoft Works.  Compatibility Fail!  Fuck you Microsoft.
  • One of the things I did is I gave each character their own font.  What this apparently meant is that using quotation marks was optional, since you could easily tell when someone was talking.  What it also currently means is that Word is dicking me on fonts that are no longer supported which it WILL SHOW, but WILL NOT CHANGE.  Fuck you Bill Gates.  Why don't you give me 1% of your money so I can be famous and an asshole too?
  • I failed so horribly at getting the tenses right.  Oh my God.  It's so bad, I think I invented entire new tenses by accident.
  • I forgot a character existed and randomly stopped mentioning them!  Actually, I think that's really funny and I'm keeping that in there.
  • In the year 2001, 90% of sentences began with the words 'well,' or 'anyways.'
  • Hooray pictures!  Actually this one frightens me.  Since I was bad at describing things, I included lots of pictures.  I don't know if they will carry over when I upload my work to lulu.  God I hope so.

And I basically procrastinated from Cube Wars editing to write this, so I'm going back there now.

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