Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Editing 101

Optimism vs. Pessimism

This post is a lead-in to the subject of editing. I finished my first draft this week and will soon begin the task of getting my golden words whipped into shape. It’s a process that has taken me a long time to work out—maybe longer than it should have. Part of it has to do with my attitude.

Someone recently complained to me that she had gotten a bad review. She quoted a negative line from a review by a well-known reviewer. I told her I didn’t remember that. So I went to the review site and looked it up. Sure enough, at the end of a long review full of praise, there was one line of criticism. In the next line the reviewer said that didn’t take away from her overall enjoyment of the book. And she recommended it.

I was surprised that she had memorized almost word-for-word the one negative line in that review. I’m not delving into the psychological reason for this. What I am interested in is the difference in outlook. I took the review to be positive, while she focused on the negative.

I have a lot of writer friends. It strikes me that there is a certain percentage of them who by nature look for the negative. And some who refuse to see anything negative at all. I fear that I am in that latter Pollyanna group, and I don’t think it’s any more useful than being in the Poor Pitiful Pearl group. In between are people who look reality in the face and benefit from it.

I'm embarrassed to say that when I first started writing, I always thought everything I wrote was terrific. I know others who have that attitude, too. Like many of them, I was puzzled why agents and publishers didn’t see the value in my work. Gradually I came to understand that I couldn’t simply pretend that there were no problems in my writing.

Now I keep a list of things to look for that I know are my weaknesses and that I tend to overlook in my excitement about having written something I like. I have a list of words I know are “place keepers,” words that I use to avoid digging deeper into the scene. When I go back through and find phrases like “this thing,” or the words “about,” or “just,” I am alert to what I’m skirting. I’m amazed at how often a scene suddenly becomes much longer because located the stock phrases I used to describe things that need much more attention. In my early writing, I ignored those warning words.

I’ve been in writer’s groups with people with the opposite problem. They can’t see any value in what they’ve written. When they revise, they often throw out the good with the bad. Although I have never had that problem, I suspect that they could find ways of alerting themselves so they will avoid throwing out the good with the bad.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on this subject. Do you consider yourself an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist?

1 comment:

Marni said...

It's always so much easier to see the edits needed in someone else's work, isn't it? I, too, have a mental list of words I carve out, too many "that"s and "just"s and words that aren't specific enough, like "someone" or "something" when those very things should be definitive. I've found building in enough time to take a break between writing and editing the work, even just a week, lets me put on my editor's hat, so I'll call myself a realist!