Entries for the Dell Award are due tomorrow. I have one short story that’s currently being read by some friends, so that I can get critiques and edit it. So, today, we’re going to talk about editing and my love/hate relationship with it.
In writing this, I’ve been trying to think about what the hardest step in editing is for me, and I think it’s actually step one – sending an unpolished draft into the world.
More often than not, the stories I send out for critiques are recently finished and I haven’t looked over them at all. They’re missing pieces I haven’t even thought of yet, there are plot holes and awkward sentences and typos. These brand new, zero-draft short stories are misshapen, vulnerable parts of me and I’m giving them out to be examined and criticized. It doesn’t matter that I give these drafts to people (usually other writers) that I know and trust. It doesn’t matter that they know how much first drafts suck. All I can think is that they’ll see it as a reflection of me, and if that first draft is too awful, they’ll think I’m a terrible writer and terrible person.
Part two of step one is waiting. I’m in that stage now with my Dell story. I’m still waiting on two of my five readers to get back to me. Five, for me, is a good number of readers (though three will be fine, too). With 3-5 readers, I can see what they’re all agreeing on and get a variety of opinions. I also don’t get overloaded with too many opinions.
Once I get all of my crits in, I’ll move on to reading them and sorting through all of the edits and suggestions. When I’m on less of a deadline, it can take me awhile to do this. I’m eager to see what was said and to make my story better, but damn, it can be hard for me to read crits. I get really stressed out and am prone to hiding my face when a particularly embarrassing mistake is pointed out. I’m still in the stage of worrying that my draft readers are going to think I’m a terrible writer/person.
Eventually, I get into a groove. I print out my story, print out the comments, and take a lot of notes. I figure out how big of an overhaul I’m going to have to make. It can be anything from adding/subtracting a couple scenes to deciding that the entire story was told incorrectly and starting over. I have one reader who frequently tells me that the short story needs to be a novel, and frustratingly enough, she’s usually right.
Once I know how much I’m going to have to do to the story, I can make a plan. Based on the responses I’ve gotten on my Dell story so far, I think it’s going to be mainly adding scenes and making existing scenes actually, you know, make sense. I’m going to worry about these big things first. I need to make the story flow and make sense before I can worry about the sentence level. When I’m ready for that, I’ll print the story out again and read it through. Often I’ll read it out loud. If I have time, I’ll send it back out to a few more readers, sometimes the same ones.
Unless I’m on a strict time limit (as I am now), it becomes difficult for me to get out of the cycle of rewrite and critique, rewrite and critique, over and over, trying to make it perfect. It can be hard to find the time to just stop and send the story out to a magazine. Eventually you just have to let it go.
What’s your editing process?