Writing Problems: The Order of Things

As I transcribe the rough draft of a novel from my notebook the first thing I notice is the rat’s nest of problems snarling up the whole thing: characters that aren’t needed or need more time, plot points that go on tangents, important moments that need to happen in an entirely different way, language that doesn’t fit. But under the mess, what I also notice is a story that I kind of like, that I’m getting attached to and, maybe, really invested in. I want to make it succinct, clear — readable. So I need to edit.

PathI’ve mentioned before that editing’s not easy. But after spending time at seminars and with mentors, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be such a haphazard process. Basically, I can save myself trouble if I start big, and work down to small. So, one of the big problems is the plot, making that one of the first things I want to work on, rearranging, rewriting, adding, and taking away bits to get the plot where I want it to be. On the smaller side is language, reworking sentences and picking the perfect words to get meanings and moods across. I’d want to do this last, since it would be a bummer to spend all this time figuring out the right wording for a scene, only to realize as I rework the plot that the entire scene needs to go.

It’s easier said than done. As I reread sentences, I want to fix them, think of a better word than “walked” or “stood.” And I do, for better or for worse. But knowing that I don’t need to worry about that part now, that it can wait, is a little bit freeing. Looking at editing this way breaks the process into pieces, so instead of an endless, amorphous beast I have to tackle, it’s a path — a winding path, with wrong turns and backtracks, but a path nonetheless — that I can follow, ticking off my progress as I go.

Let’s just see if I follow it that way.

Do you have a process to your editing?

One thought on “Writing Problems: The Order of Things

  1. I basically do what you’re talking about. I try to look at the big picture and then move smaller. So when going over it for a first time I just make sure that the big picture is working, that what I set out to happen in the beginning does happen by the end. Then I work my way to character and scenes.

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