Friday, August 13, 2010

When Editing Doesn’t Work

Sometimes when we write we fail to achieve clarity and, no matter how much we edit, the piece won’t work. This happens to the best of us and it can be a frustrating experience. It happened to me this week while I attempted to write a blog post. The piece drove me crazy. I got to the stage where I felt all I was doing was shuffling words around. So, what do we do when this happens?

We have 4 options:
1. we can persevere and hope the editing will eventually iron out the kinks;
2. we can deicide it’s a lost cause and abandon the piece;
3. we can decide it’s good enough;
4. we can set it aside for a while with the plan to come back to it at a later stage.

In my opinion, the fourth option is the best choice. Time is an editor’s best friend. Time allows the writer to step back from their work and view their writing with a certain level of detachment.

The amount of time you set aside is up to you. Sometimes you’ll need only an hour. Other times you’ll need a day, a week, or even a month. In the case of my blog post, all I needed was a shower and some breakfast to see where it needed fixing.

Other ways of gaining a fresh eye for editing:

Read your piece out loud. It might feel strange at first, but it has a way of highlighting the rhythms of your words. It’s equivalent to an artist holding up their painting to a mirror. Seeing the art in reverse gives the artist a new way of looking at it. When you read your writing out loud, you’ll discover it’s easier to find the flaws.

Have someone else read your piece. Getting feedback from a range of different people is essential for improving your work. Even those who have no writing background can still offer a different perspective on your piece.

And, finally, sometimes we have to accept that a stubborn piece of writing will take more than a few word changes to fix. Sometimes it will need a full rewrite. And sometimes it will need to be tossed. If this is the case, don’t despair. No writing is wasted writing because the more we write, the more we improve.

What do you do when your editing doesn’t work?

30 comments:

  1. reading aloud! that works so well!
    great advice as always lyn!

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  2. A combination of 1 and 4 for me. I hate abandoning a piece, particularly if I feel it has potential. And I am also too uneasily satisfied to deem something good enough when I know in my gut it's not. So I edit like crazy, take a break, come back to it, and edit some more. Fresh eyes and reading aloud also helps. :]

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  3. Pray!
    Just joking. I just keep plugging away at it but seriously, the best thing for me is to get my peer group to have another look over it. They usually get me on track.
    CD

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  4. I set mine aside and have someone else read it, then send it for a critique, then wait some more, then go back to revise :)

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  5. I have others read it after I set it aside awhile! I also am apt to discard something easier these days if it doesn't work.

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  6. Amanda, I do abandon some pieces but I never throw them away. You never know when they might become useful again.

    Clarissa, it's amazing how peer groups are so helpful

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  7. Summer, yep sending if off to be read has the added bonus of distance and time.

    Terri, it can be liberating to discard pieces. I used to have a really hard time taking sections out of my writing. Like you, it's easier now ;)

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  8. Great advice! If something's really bugging me, I always try to print it out and go through with a colorful pen. hehe. Seeing it in a different format is so helpful. But then there's the matter of transcribing the edits onto the computer... *sigh* :)

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  9. If I've edited multiple times and read it silently and aloud so many times I can't count anymore, then I set it aside.

    Helen

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  10. I bang my head against the computer, whining and crying until my guy calmly suggests I walkaway for a while, so I am getting better at doing that. I totally forgot about holding the art work in front of the mirror!! I used to do that! What a great reminder! If I ever do abandon, I stick it in a folder for 'later' like you said. I have been able to recycle some of my ideas or words from pieces I gave up on. Maybe it was the write words or ideas, just the wrong time or place. *shrugs* I rarely have alone time but when I do, I read a lot of my stuff out loud and it makes such a huge difference! Great thoughts here!! Thanks!

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  11. #4 works the best for me, too. Sometimes I try to write it from a different angle, and that helps, too.

    Thanks for your kind words on my blog today!

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  12. Emilia, yep, I use coloured pens as well. Transcribing can be a great way of editing in itself too :)

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  13. Michelle, you made me laugh. I bang my head against the computer as well on occasion ;)

    Aubie, yes, great tip. Writing it from a different angle is a great idea.

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  14. My family probably thinks I'm nuts because I often read my work aloud. I'll tell my kids: "I'm going to read out loud now, so just ignore me." And they do - they're used to it!

    And time, definitely give it time. There's nothing like the subconscious mind to work through the kinks.

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  15. At first I just stare at the screen, hoping it will change. Getting away from the writing helps. Unfortunately I'm too good at staying away for fear I can't fix it.

    I haven't tried reading aloud, but Self-Editing for Fiction Writers recommended this for finding stiffness in dialogue. When my critique group reads my stuff aloud, I know I need to fix something when the reader stumbles over words.

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  16. Susan, it's true about the subconscious mind. It's a powerful tool :)

    Bonnie, oh yes, I'm a master starer as well. But yes hearing someone else read aloud your work would also be especially helpful. I've not tried that.

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  17. I'm a big fan of setting it aside and actually giving it some time to determine if it is worth saving. Reading aloud also helps me find a lot of the boring bits!

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  18. but when you ask someone else to read or edit you manuscript, it must be a very honest person. Many writers give their work for proofreading to people who will tell them only nice things. You need a brutal person for this job who will tell you that you suck if you really suck :))

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  19. Sometimes, I just keep reading it more than once...Have a great weekend. God bless.

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  20. Talli, Yes, when you find yourself skipping sections in your own work while you are trying to read it, you know someone else will skip it also. A sure sign of a boring bit ;)

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  21. Dezmond, absolutely and for sure! Finding the right critique partner is a whole post in itself :)

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  22. Rcubes, another great tip. Read it and read it and read it some more! Have a great weekend too! Blessings :)

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  23. I find walking away and coming back very effective. I also yell for help from my critique group and have a few writing friends I can tap for help. Or, I write long, rambling e-mails to a friend of mine. Usually by the end of the e-mail, I've solved the issue. Not always, but usually. I send them anyway. She gets a kick out of them.

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  24. Mary, very cool. It's good to have friends that will listen to us ramble on ;)

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  25. Hi Lynda..I agree with you that no piece of writing is wasted writing as the more we write the more we improve. I have been advised by several people that I should read my stories loud to discover the faults in it.

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  26. Checking out your other blog. Very insightful and helpful to your "writer" readers. Blessings to you Lyn.

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  27. I'm with you on #4--I find it almost always helps. You come back to it with a fresh eye and see things you didn't notice before.

    Great advice - thanks for posting!

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  28. I think you're right that number four happens to be the best choice out of them all.

    I always need to take some time to think before writing or editing a piece. I need to form my fuzzy ideas into concrete thoughts, so I put a pen in my hand and write.

    I write and if it doesn't work. I give myself some more time to think what I want to say and what message I want to get across to my readers.

    So, write on and give yourself some time!

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  29. Hi Rachna, Yes, I used to worry I had wasted my time if I had to throw out sections of my writing. But sometimes those sections just needed to be writen to clarify thoughts or get past a writer's block :)


    Hey JBR, thanks for visiting. I'm glad you like :)

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  30. WritingNut, sometimes we have to force that distance in time because we are eager to keep going or we have a deadline looming. It's worth it though :)

    Vatche, welcome and thanks for commenting. That's another good point about time. Sometimes we need to do heavy editing because we didn't slow down to clear our thoughts before we write.

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