Monday, May 6, 2013

Editing versus writing

I'm currently editing two novels. It struck me the other night how fundamentally different the process of writing is from editing in one aspect. When I write a story, I'm always looking at my increasing word count. My goals are based on how many new words I add to the story each week. There's that moment of excitement when a story passes the "short" length and into novella. Then there's the sheer joy of crossing into novel length.

But then, I type "The End" and panic sets. One of the down sides to being a discovery writer is that I write long. Too long. I might have 50 pages before I figure out where the story starts. As I start to push the upper edge of genre appropriate word count. I start thinking about how much is left and how much I'll need to cut in the edit phase.

When I switch hats from writer to editor, I reverse the process. I have a minimum number of words I need to lop off. It's a bit disheartening when I start the process, but then just like the moment of watching the word count rise, watching it decline becomes a thrill. Not only am I  bringing the beast into genre acceptable limits, but I'm watching the story lines tighten, making my prose cleaner and meaner. Once I chip away excess words, I find themes I hadn't realized I'd written in.

So, right now I'm in the process of taking a 130,500 word behemoth back down to something closer to 110k. Three thousand words to down, seventeen thousand to go. Oh yes, and did I mention I wanted this edit complete before I leave for Superstars Writing Seminar on Sunday (May 12)?? Well, I do. So it's back to work for me.

As always, thanks for stopping by.


Nathan Barra said...

Though I tend towards the outliner side of that particular spectrum, I've had the same problems with self-editing as you say. Except in this case, I'm not trimming off whole limbs, but rather working at carving away the fat without damaging the rest of the work. It's something that I've been focusing on recently as my major area of improvement, so hopefully we can share some insights into our own processes.

K. Scott Lewis said...

So... here's my question. A word-count is a number. It seems like a lot of writers are obsessed with not being "too long", or hitting a certain target number.

Now, I totally get chopping down unnecessary scenes, and seeing when your story starts... but I also wonder why we must see the number of words we cut as a milestone/goal in editing, in the same way we see increasing word count as a goal in writing. I would argue that both are false goals (if we're looking at numbers). I tend to think, make the story as long (or short) as it needs to be.

All that being said, I'm no mater and I'm sure my own work could stand some cuts ... but not do to counting words.

I'm also curious as to why 130K and 110K words are all that different when we see fantasy and sci-fi books at the 300-400K count (for a single volume).

I'm just thinking aloud here... I'm not challenging what you've said, but you sparked some reflection and I thought I'd share.

Happy writing!