The Bravery of Editing: Allowing Your Work of Art True Freedom

Some people view editing as negative or tedious or something for someone else to do for them, but I actually enjoy editing as I love the stories I am in the process of creating. To revisit them again and again, I never tire of it though understandably I can be frustrated when I am unable to direct them in the manner I wish them to go. That’s when I step away and give both of us peace and quiet. I visit other “friends” in their stories.

To quote myself from a post at Goodreads.com“Every word I write is like a drop of my blood. If it’s flowed passionately and long, I need time to recover from the emotion spent before I began a new story. My characters are my life. I have to respectfully and carefully move between them.”

Yet some writers view each word cut away from the manuscript in the same way. I can appreciate wanting your work to remain exactly as you’ve written it, but I look at editing in a different way.  To me editing is a way to better showcase my characters, scenes and plot. If superfluous words or descriptions are holding them back, then those words need to be slashed away to reveal the true heart and depth of my meaning and purpose.

Think of it as bringing a human’s form out of block of marble. The most beautiful person you can imagine is inside waiting to emerge. You wish to present them to the world in all their finest glory. If the sculpture is still rough edged with some areas not as clearly defined or conversely, if it is draped with unnecessary materials, such as cloth or leafed branches, you need to remove anything distracting from your work of art.

The idea for this entry occurred to me after reading an article at “Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s Blog” by Chuck Sambuchino, it was titled “Agents Chapter 1 Pet Peeves”. Happily, only one pet peeve out of the list could I be considered truly culpable of, and that was having descriptive phrases some might find unnecessary.

Partially it is my writing style, which tends towards the (I’ll put it nicely) archaic in that I seriously dislike the brevity “modern” electronic based books have elicited in so many writers. Many people who prefer ebooks or books they can view with electronic devices want them to be “scrollable”. They seem to want to breeze through a work and not actually have to think about what they are reading. They pay a minimal amount compared to print hardcovers, and they want to move on to the next work. Enjoy the moment and then put it aside.

I am a thinking reader, therefore I am also a thinking writer. When I create a story, I choose to not simply “tell” it, but within the scenes or descriptions the reader is encouraged to learn about the characters, their motivations, their weaknesses and even past occurences by thinking the scenes through. Descriptive phrases help me do so, but I absolutely having too many, too quickly, or in too great of detail can overwhelm the reader and bog down the pace and flow.

This particular pet peeve of some agents elicited many comments although they’ve been removed now for whatever reason. The summation from the majority questioned whether an agent’s personal preference for not having descriptions should automatically disqualify the whole book. Some agents indicated they tossed a book after the first chapter if it had too many descriptions, a fact I personally commented on also, which I thought was very much lacking in objectivity.

One “work in progress” of mine is a literary fiction project named “The Agony of Joy”. I love the characters, and I wish for readers to also come to know and care for them. Without descriptive phrases of some sort, one cannot visualize those characters. I do not ascribe to the view of giving only a sketchy outline of appearance and letting the reader use their imagination to create the person as they wish them to be. I prefer them to use their imagination to visual the person I wish them to see. Thus, very strongly I want those characters seen in their “best light” whatever emotions or behavior they happen to be displaying.

I’ve had a number of betas going over my story, and it had been noted I used too many descriptions too densely although, by majority, they liked the characters, story, settings and plot. I agreed with their assessment, and have “whittled” them away to streamline my work. I felt eager to have direction. Out of 30K words I’ve roughly  pared away 2,000 or so, but I feel it’s better than ever….and I will continue to try to improve upon it.

Don’t be afraid to edit effectively. Think of your work objectively. I am very stubborn and contrary person in a way, and I very much prefer to do things my way: write my way, create my way, present my work my way, but it is insensible to not take into account suggestions and constructive criticism which might help me improve the story I wish to tell.

In fact, when I went back to edit “The Agony of Joy”, I felt a new love for my characters, an excitement I hadn’t felt for weeks. I felt no hesitation in cutting away what was unnecessary. Yet to test my enthusiam, I did create a document solely containing those slashed phrases or paragraphs. Periodically I insert them again, but I’ve yet to find one which is needed any longer.

One dissenting voice of the betas said my whole story was pointless and it simply needed to be deleted.

“Is there a purpose to this story? Who is protagoninst? Whose story is this? Is there an antagoninst? Is there a sruggle? What is it that Lexx or Adrian want? What or who is preventing them to get it? How are they going to go about resolving the obsitcals? Is there a clear character arc here? Are they same persons in the beginning of the book, through the middle and do they come out the same? Do they learn from their jurney? None of this is set forth in these opening passages. I don’t see any purpose to anything that is written here.”

Well in that, you can determine that for yourself, as the description, blurb and first chapters are available on one of my webpages, The Journey of Red Haircrow: The Agony of Joy.  My response basically was: read the description, then realize this is not pulp fiction but literary fiction.

And editing is always an ongoing project, up to a certain point that is…

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4 thoughts on “The Bravery of Editing: Allowing Your Work of Art True Freedom

  1. I talked about this in an Artist’s Round Table Discussion recently. I have writing students who fall apart when the editing discussion begins. I wish there wasn’t such a fear of “the red pen”… fear, loathing… throw backs to bad grades in writing classes.

    I enjoyed finding your words today via ShineONLINE. I am joining in with you folks in the next couple days. Only found the group now.

  2. I’m a writer by trade, a journalist and author of two non-fiction books, the latest out April 14 from Portfolio/Penguin.

    First readers (what you call betas?) are essential to any ambitious writer because no one is capable of seeing or fixing all their biases, tics and bad habits. I had five on the new book and all of them agreed on its challenges (fixable, thank heaven) while two of them insisted I remove a few overly-personal passages; it’s a memoir.

    Then my editor wanted 10 (of 12!) chapters revised. No pressure.

    Anyone who wants to be published must deal with being edited. If you can’t stand the heat, there’s no place for you in the kitchen.

    http://caitlinkelly.com/

    • I’m going to have to assume that the “you” in “If you can’t stand the heat, there’s no place for you in the kitchen”, is a general one, because my article points out editing is essential to improving in the art of writing.

      While I don’t agree that “no one is capable of seeing or fixing their biases, tics and bad habits”, I do again say having those who are willing to read one’s work prior to publishing is a great way to receive feedback and different perspectives on one’s stories, fiction or non-fiction.

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