Shrediting

I am bad at editing. I procrastinate editing  because the process scares me. My editing has four distinct stages. In this post, I demonstrate them by tearing apart the first paragraph of a draft.

Waves swept over the boat’s side. Jill clung to the steering wheel’s post, trying desperately to stay on her feet. She had lashed her waist to the steering post but that didn’t help her keep her footing. Her legs slid across the deck, slippery with seaweed and wildlife scum. Her knees banged mercilessly against it, going numb in the icy water that sloshed back and forth. Probably a good thing. I’ll never live down these bruises. She clung to the wheel. It was useless to maintain her course. Like the green pilot she was, she had let the wheel spin the first time she fell, smashing the glass casing around her compass as she went. A ship loomed in the darkness above the waves. It was just bobbing in and out of the eyesight. It wasn’t a sea-going vessel. She glanced down at the greenery littering the deck. All hands on deck! We’re in the shallows!” Frantically, she glanced up into the gray expanse of cloud. Tall pillars of stone appeared through the mist, rising like stalagmites out of the water. They were the iconic symbols of Arcadina, wardens of the deadly shallows that appeared on good days in Arcadinan travel brochures. “Relax in sunny Arcadina” the tagline was. “I wish.” she gritted through her teeth.

Patching occurs while writing the first draft. It is like fixing a dress with duct tape because  you can not be bothered to do any sewing. Patching fixes continuity errors, inserts the right word, rephrase, and making a major name change. Patching a draft in progress is so laborious you might put it off, especially since the next stage of editing tends to introduce gaping plot holes.

Waves swept over the ship’s side. Jill clung to the wheel, trying desperately to stay on her feet. She had lashed herself to the wheel, but that did not help her keep her footing. Her legs slid across the deck, slippery with sea scum. Her knees banged mercilessly against it, going numb in the icy water that sloshed back and forth. Probably a good thing. I’ll never live down these bruises. She clung to the wheel. It was useless trying to maintain her course. Like the green pilot she was, she had let the wheel spin the first time she fell, smashing the glass casing around her compass as she went. A ship loomed in the darkness above the waves. It was just bobbing in and out of the eyesight. It wasn’t a sea-going vessel. She glanced down at the greenery littering the deck. “All hands on deck! We’re in the shallows!” Frantically, she glanced up into the gray expanse of cloud. Tall pillars of stone appeared through the mist, rising like stalagmites out of the water. They were the iconic symbols of Arcadia, wardens of the deadly shallows that appeared on good days in Arcadian travel brochures. “Relax in sunny Arcadia” the tagline was. “I wish.” she gritted through her teeth.

Focusing the argument and organization. This is like going back to alter a dress you have made (or patched)  because it does not fit. You tear out characters, get rid of nonessential events, re-arrange everything, and stitch it carefully back together. You might have to do this several times before it fits. And it looks horrible.

A wave crashed over the ship’s side. Jill clung to the wheel where she had lashed herself. She slipped on the sea scum littering the deck, and banged her knees on the deck. She pulled herself up, but not before her knees had gone numb in the icy water. “Cold is good, or I’d never live down the bruises,” She reminded herself. It was useless trying to steer. Like a novice, she let go the wheel the first time she fell, and landed on her compass, smashing it. Jill spotted a lantern in the dark, bobbing  in and out of eyesight over the waves. It wasn’t on a boat. She glanced at the seaweed littering the deck. “All hands on deck! We’re in the shallows!” Tall pillars of stone rose through a low-hanging mist. They were wardens of deadly shallows and icons of Arcadia in colorful travel brochures with the slogan “Relax in sunny Arcadia!” “I wish.” she gritted through her teeth.

Pulling out the extra sentences comes next. It is like cutting off rickrack off a dress, ripping out bright red basting stitches, or fixing the hemline. You make it look nice. Pulling omits any nonessential word or phrase, eliminates sections emphasizing or telling the audience what to think, and adds explanation where plot holes exist. It hurts.

A wave crashed over the ship. Jill had lashed herself to the wheel, but she slipped on the sea scum littering the deck, banging her knees. Her knees were numb with the icy water before she could pull herself up. “Cold is good, or I’d be covered in bruises,” She muttered. Trying to steer was useless. She had let go the wheel the first time she fell and smashed her compass on the deck. Jill spotted a steady light in the dark visible between the waves. She glanced at the seaweed littering the deck. “All hands on deck! We’re in the shallows!” Tall pillars of stone rose through a low-hanging mist. They were wardens of shallows and icons of Arcadia in colorful travel brochures urging, “Relax in sunny Arcadia!” “I wish.” Jill muttered.

Grammar and punctuation are very last. This stage is like cutting all the loose ends on a finished dress. You must still delete commas, add periods, eliminate fragments, fix run-ons, and correct faulty pronoun association problems. Then you are done…right?

A wave crashed over the ship. Jill had lashed herself to the wheel, but she slipped on the sea scum littering the deck. Her knees were numb with the icy water before she could pull herself up. “Cold is good, or I’d be covered in bruises,” she muttered. Trying to steer was useless. She had let go of the wheel the first time she fell and had smashed her compass on the deck. Jill spotted a steady light visible between the dark waves. She glanced at the seaweed littering the deck. “All hands on deck! We’re in the shallows!” Tall pillars of stone rose through a low-hanging mist. The monoliths were wardens of shallows and icons of Arcadia in colorful travel brochures that urged, “Relax in sunny Arcadia!” “I wish.” Jill muttered.

cutting up a book

Many writers get stuck at the editing stage, and shred their work before it’s even written; others don’t edit if they can help it. I fall into the latter camp. I always save a copy before I start. Editing is stressful because you have to decide what’s important before deleting a third of your draft. In the examples above, I went from 210 words to 134. A guideline is the shorter, the better.

Unfortunately, editing never ends. However, editing has its benefits. Edited passages emphasize action, look cleaner, cost less to print, and are easier to read. Hopefully, this post has made editing little less scary. It’s daunting, but everyone could benefit from a little editing.

If you have  insights, critiques, suggestions, or stories about shrediting, feel free to comment.

Photo credit: Liz Henry, some rights reserved.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s