Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Self-Editing: Part 11

(This series begins with Part 1.)

XI. Edit After You Write!

Now for a few closing thoughts, and some of my favorite quotes on this subject. I'm big on quotes, I collect them, and when somebody like Hemingway says a thing, I believe writers do well to listen:
"Most writers slough off the most important part of their trade -- editing their stuff, honing it and honing it until it gets an edge like a bullfighter's killing sword." --Ernest Hemingway

Always remember, though, that the editing comes after the writing. Do not try to edit your stuff while you are writing it! When you're writing fiction, especially, you want your creative, imaginative right brain running wild and free. Don't rein it in. Let it go! Let it soar as far over the top as it wants.

But when you're REwriting, when you're self-editing, call on your logical, analytical, objective left brain. Curb your creative excesses. Cut the parts that are overdone. Polish it up. Check the internal logic of your story. Look at the parts -- chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, word by word.

This division of labor is absolutely essential. If you allow your critical left brain to muscle its way into the creative process, you'll bog down. You'll get terribly frustrated, and you may come to believe that writing is just too hard -- when, in fact, the first-draft creative part of the process should be a pure joy.

Here are some more quotes that will, I hope, help you get in touch with the two halves of your brain and learn to harness the talents of each: the intuitive, imaginative right brain, and the logical, analytical left brain:

From Stephen King:
"Downloading what's in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind … I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that's always waiting to settle in." --Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)

From Amanda Jenkins, one of the finest writers I know personally:

"Just write it! The first draft will stink." --A.M. Jenkins (Breaking Boxes, Damage, Night Road)

From Anne Lamott, a well-known novelist and writing teacher:
"The first draft is the down draft—you just get it all down. The second draft is the up draft—you clean it all up." --Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

OK, that's what I have for you. You've been a wonderful audience. Any questions?


Barron's Essentials of English. Barron's Educational Series, 1990.

The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th edition. University of Chicago Press, 2003.

The Grammar Doctor, http://www.grammardoc.110mb.com/

Gross, Gerald, editor. Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do. Third edition. Grove Press, 1993.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2000.

Lukeman, Noah. The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 2000.

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