You might not write well every day,
but you can always edit a bad page.
You can't edit a blank page. Jodi Picoult.
Julie Luek is editing, rewriting, reviewing, updating... whatever you want to call it. She asked for advice on how to go about it; I understand this, as I have also sat down with my completed draft and muttered, 'Now what?'.
I can't offer much from experience (obviously), but I like to steal the ideas of those who do have experience.
The technical stuff is down below and includes both general and specific advice. But first, I found an interesting psychological tip about editing in Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow.
Elbow says: "learning to throw away more ruthlessly comes from learning to generate more prolificly." In other words, if we're scared we can't produce more and better, we will have a problem getting rid of weak work. Elbow's solution is to write like the clappers. 'Start writing and keep writing.' For those who think blog, journal, letter, review, and prompt writing threatens real writing, think again. The more confidence we have to produce, the more ferociously we can edit, and the better our writing becomes. Or so Elbow seems to think, and for what it's worth, I agree.
Have a look at Writer's Digest revision tips for more ideas about how to get the mind keen on editing.
Okay, now on to the stuffy technicalities. If you've read these a million times, reading them again can't hurt (or save your soul and skip it). If there's something new to learn - great.
50 Essential Tools for Every Writer by Peter Roy Clark, suggests:
- Cut big, then small, that is, prune the big limbs, (blocks of text), then shake out the dead leaves (individual words);
- Cut out blocks of text, whole scenes if necessary, regardless of how pretty they are, that do not support the focus. Convince yourself that they can be used in a different story if you need to;
- Cut out weakest quotations, anecdotes and scenes to give power to the strongest (this is perhaps more relevant to non-fiction);
- Cut anything written for a critic rather than a reader;
- Assess each word and sentence for usefulness, and then treat them appropriately;
- Never invite others to cut for you.
Okay, so my story's probably half of what it was. Here's more from Clark:
- Cut adverbs that intensify rather then modify (just, certainly, entirely, extremely, completely, exactly);
- Cut prepositional phrases that repeat the obvious; e.g., in the story, in the movie, in the city;
- Cut phrases that grow on verbs; e.g., seems to, tends to, should have to, tries to.
- Cut abstract nouns that hide active verbs; consideration becomes considers, judgement becomes judges, observation becomes observes;
- Cut restatements, e.g., a sultry, humid afternoon, and tautologies, e.g., final outcome, rise up.
Bruce Caplan has a whole book of these in Editing Made Easy. These are some of his thoughts from a life of professional editing, newspapers mainly, so read with caution:
- Write and edit to express, not to impress;
- Beware the split infinitive;
- Clutter slows pace. Try to avoid of the such as in, the cover of the book (the book cover), the captain of the team (the team captain);
- Avoid overusing others and both. See if the sentence makes sense without it. e.g., A car crash killed two people and injured four others;
- Try dropping that;
- Avoid there were, there are, there is;
- Know the difference between which and that;
- Use short and simple over long and complex;
- Be clear when using pronouns. e.g., He told Bill he thought he was going to the shop. Repeat nouns, reset the sentence or punctuate;
- Be consistent with style;
- Watch out for see (or saw), such as, January will see the start of work on the road;
- Do not use contractions except in dialogue.
After considering these pointers (and a billion others - The Elements of Style is a favourite source), I am expecting my 80,000 words to whittle to 30,000. So that's what they mean by rewriting.
But I'm not scared. I can generate endless material, and it will be better.
Exercise 85. Microexamine a scene or a short story. Look specifically for adverbs and adjectives that could be replaced with more effective verbs and nouns. Look for other extraneous words such as those mentioned above. Look for passive voice and change it to active (unless passive serves a role).
Exercise 86. "Write a short story on any topic in 500 words. Then write the same story in 50 words – this is called a mini-saga." (From Joan Rosier-Jones, So You Want to Write).