Yesterday it rained, and I’ve been starting to get a little tired in the afternoons–what with being 6 months pregnant and all–so I knew if I went home I’d just sleep a lot of the afternoon away. Instead, I took myself out to Potbelly’s and plowed through the last 250 pages of my paper edits. Yeah! Go me!
This was my first time doing paper edits on a hulking 520 page manuscript. Here’s what I learned in the process:
- Paper edits are worth doing. Editing on paper is a lot different than editing on screen. You notice different things, and you get a better sense of your pacing, how you are moving through the book (quarter of the way, half way, three quarters) than you do while editing on screen. You also have your original text right there and it doesn’t disappear, so you stay focused on making making your writing tighter rather than just fiddling around and adding to it.
- Use pencil, not pen. I started out working in pen, and I often got so excited about crossing stuff out and fixing things, that I sometimes changed things that, after finishing the paragraph, I realized were there for a reason. Then, while making my fixes, I often wrote in what I wanted it to say… and after ten crossouts and failed attempts, realized the original way was better. The sections that I edited in pen are a MESS and I’m kind of dreading inputting them into the computer. The sections that I edited in pencil are neat and organized and make sense.
- Paper edits allow you to think spatially. This may not help everyone, but as a very spatially-oriented person I remember exactly where on a page something I read was, so when I’m going along and I see, “Oh! I just used that word a couple pages ago!” it’s soooo much easier for me to find the part I’m thinking of and make fixes. And that goes for finding that scene or paragraph of description you just realized is unnecessary ten pages after you read it. Bottom line: You don’t get lost in a huge scrolling document the way you do on screen.
Also on the spatial front, having all that text in front of you also makes it easier to flip around in a given chapter, so you notice how moving a paragraph to a different location works better, or where you can cut a section without having to add a transition between two parts. And because your changes are all circles and arrows, you can read through it and test drive the change without having screwed something up if you don’t like it.
- Do your edits as fast as possible. Not that quality isn’t important, but with paper edits you have to leave sections on the cutting room floor. The best way to know what needs to be there and what doesn’t is to have a sense of your story as a whole, and that means moving quickly through it. Moving quickly also means you’re more likely to notice that every third chapter your MC is looking out the window. Or that you’ve used the words “tilted” and “tipped” way more often than anyone should ever use “tilted” and “tipped.”
Going fast also builds up a momentum. I breezed through page 50 to about 200 in a couple days… and then life happened and I puttered around pages 200-320 for almost two weeks. Then yesterday, I took myself out for lunch and did page 320-520 and I was finished. I think the quality of my edits during the long hauls was probably a lot better than the little snatches. I had a better sense of where I was in the story, what came before and after, and I was a lot more focused.
- Making cuts is still tough. I thought I’d scratch a sentence here and there and loose a TON of words on this edit. Not so easy. Other than my first chapter, which I ended up cutting entirely (and I’m still mulling over whether I need to put any of it back or not), I did not find as many of these little cuts as I’d hoped. And, naturally, I have a reason in my mind why every single scene I didn’t cut is important… but I adore my story, so of course I think everything is important.
I’ve mentioned my wordcount woes before, and I haven’t inputted my paper edits into my document yet, so I don’t yet know where I stand with that. I don’t think I cut enough. Not 30,000 words enough, anyway. Last night after I was finished making my paper edits, I went back through and managed to cross out a couple more chunks. I’ve got a couple other parts that I am questioning my motives for keeping as well that I may go back and take a second peek at this afternoon. I have to be suspicious of myself. I love nothing more than to read and write about an interesting character in their everyday happenings. But it’s got to move things forward physically or emotionally, and sometimes the amount of emotional movement in a given scene is not enough to justify it’s staying. Where to draw the line, though?
At the same time… wordcount isn’t everything. This is a book that I originally intended to be a trilogy… but then structurally it didn’t work. Most of the plot of the third book ended up being spread around the first and second book as a side plot, and then the first book and second book were too co-dependent to split up. It may be that whittling it down to 100K will do more harm than good, and if that’s the case, I’d rather it was too long. We’ll see…
I’m not much into cooking and even less into baking (I say as I pull a cake out the oven–I swear this is the first time I’ve made a cake from scratch in my adult life). I am, however, really into pizza. A couple times a month, I make pizza from scratch the way my daddy taught me. It is sooo yummy.
My dad’s dough recipe, though, has been a bit finicky for me. Sometimes it comes out great, and sometimes it comes out a big sloppy mess. Maybe that’s me not counting out four cups of flour accurately (I pretend I’m the Count from Sesame Street. “One cup of flour, ah ha ha!”—no really. I’m not joking. I do that.), or maybe it’s the recipe. Either way, I have been messing with his dough recipe for years, and I think I’ve finally got a version I like that consistently comes out stretchy and easy to work with.
Cindi’s Version of Dad’s Pizza Dough
1 ½ cup warm water (measured with dry cups)
1 ¼ tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp parsley
4 ¼ cup flour (all purpose, unbleached)
Use pizza dough cycle on bread maker
To make pizza:
Spread dough out on a cookie sheet. Add slices of mozzarella right on top of dough. Crush a 14.5 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes on top and spread evenly over mozzarella. Season pizza. Cook on bottom-most oven rack, no preheat. 425 degrees.
The dorm smelled of mothballs, and that was going to be a problem.
– first line of my work in progress Outbroken.
I cannot believe how quickly April is whirring by. I am on page 217 of 520 of my red pen edits. After the first couple chapters it started going a lot faster, and now I feel like I’m breezing through it. The other night, my husband had to ask me three times to put it away and go to sleep because I was so into it.
I’m into my own book. That sounds sort of… weird. It’s true though. I’m really enjoying reading through it. I was hoping I’d find a lot of bits to take out–a paragraph here, a paragraph there–but I really haven’t. I’ve removed a couple sections, and I’ve decided my main character looks out windows too often, particularly at the beginnings of chapters, so I’ve deleted a bunch of those… but other than that, it’s not as easy to get rid of text as I’d hoped. Which is good because it means my writing is already pretty tight, but it also means I’m definitely going to end up with a manuscript longer than 100K.
I’m also a little concerned that my writing style may have changed between the beginning of the book and the end of the book. Crossing my fingers that I’m wrong.
The end result of all this is that I will not be ready to participate in Friday’s PitchSlam.
This red pen round of edits is going a lot slower than I expected. I figured it would just be a matter of crossing out a sentence here, a word or two there, maybe fixing up some missed punctuation or grammar… but no. My mind doesn’t work like that. I’m reorganizing paragraphs, changing content and making such a huge red mess that I’m sticking looseleaf sheets between the pages to explain what’s going on. After hours, I’m still working on the first chapter. I’m not even entirely convinced that my red pen edits are better than what I had there originally.
I’m wondering if maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe I should have just put out to a beta reader… but maybe once I get past the first chapter it will go easier. The first chapter is tough because when you first write it you don’t really know that much about your story (at least, I didn’t). I’ll plug away at it a little more before deciding.
I have now finished the rewrites of my last couple of scenes, and in preparation for a big word count cut, I’ve printed out the first 100 pages of my manuscript. There is something very satisfying about having it on paper. I intend to make heavy use of a red pen. Make it bleeeeeeeeeed. Mwahahaha!
So that was a couple days ago. I have carried my binder to work and back, to the grocery store and back. I have not yet opened it and started actually crossing stuff out. I think I’m subconsciously trying to give the ending rewrite a little bit of mental distance first. But I will do this, and when I do, I’m going to make some serious headway on this word count problem.
I love Lisa Cron. Her writing series on Lynda.com is what finally made me understand why my first 2.5 years of working on this novel had me spinning my wheels. I had an interesting character in an interesting situation, I had stuff the character had to overcome, and an outline… but I was going nowhere.
Lisa Cron’s Lynda series is about how to make your protagonist an integral participant in the plot–which was what my story was missing. You can find that series here:
And if you’re not a Lynda member, Lisa Cron fortunately also writes articles for Writer Unboxed and has a book called Wired for Story (which I haven’t gotten a chance to try yet). Recently, at Writer Unboxed, she wrote an article on why pantsing and plotting both fall short, and what really drives a story.
What drives your protagonist forward is her internal agenda: she arrives on page one already wanting something very badly, and with an inner issue – a misbelief – that she has to overcome in order to have a chance of getting it. Overcoming this internal misbelief is what the story is about. The plot is constructed to force her to confront it — which is where the struggle comes in — ultimately causing her to change, internally. Otherwise, that thing she wants? Even if she gets it, it’ll taste like ashes.