Editing to greatness

From Monday to Friday of last week I spent my days down in St. George at a one of David Farland’s writing seminars.  The topic of this seminar was editing your novel. The seminar proved valuable on many fronts, but the main purpose–editing–benefited me a great deal.

Dave is a fantastic teacher, and I recommend that anyone who wants to write books take his seminars and learn as much from him as possible. Once you finish a book, Dave taught, you edit as follows:

  1. Add things
  2. Combine things
  3. Remove things
  4. Line edit

Of course, this is just one method. Some people don’t even edit. Some do it differently. I like this methodology. After all, what point is there in line editing if you’re just going to remove things or change it later on? So, take care of the big things up front–like missing scenes, plot lines, characters, and so forth. Then, you’ll notice, the next three edits all involve tightening the book up. The more experience I get writing a book, the more I learn the value of editing. I have 9 books of practice under my belt, now, and each time I write one the process is a little different. It evolves some, each time.

It used to be that I would write the book and then when editing simply go back through and line edit. Tweak the sentences and paragraphs. But the once I’d put the structure in place, I wouldn’t change it. These last four books, however, each book’s revision process has become more traumatic to the book. I’ve started taking drastic measure upon revision. Changing chapter sequences, deleting scenes, adding new scenes, combining characters, changing motivations, re-writing complete plot lines, removing entire swaths of book, adding others.

In the end, I’m certain that the more you write, the more willing you are to make big changes because the less sacred your writing becomes.

It’s a point that’s difficult to reach for many reasons. You hear stories about writers (such as Orson Scott Card) who write a first draft and then ship it off for publishing–and you want to be awesome like that. Or, you have very little time to write, and every page you remove counts as significant time lost. Possibly, you just can’t admit that something you wrote is poop, and needs to go.

But here’s the thing: when you reach the point that nothing is sacred as you edit, that you’ll throw anything out and sacrifice anything and spend any amount of time to fix something–that’s when you can gain true power as a writer. You can write things you never thought you could write, and when you can make your stories truly great.

Because chances are unless you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it up front, and quite a bit of time exploring a lot of the options, the book or story isn’t as fantastic as it could be with a little more work. Yes, it means sacrificing something–time, your pride, comfort–but in the end you come out on top.

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