Monday, October 17, 2011

On the Joy of Editing

Or the Freedom of not getting too Attached

Would you put so much effort and attention to detail only to burn it?

Check out the photos on, an annual event called the Burning Man, is held in the Nevada Desert. People come together to build amazing constructions only to set them all on fire.

It's considered the largest outdoor gallery in the world.

The completed Temple of Transition: The builders claimed it was the tallest temporary (ie: no foundation) wood frame building on the planet.

Then it all gets burned in a spectacular display.

My first reaction was, 'That's crazy!' My second reaction was, 'But so cool!' Yes, I'm a bit of a pyro.

Burn, my prettys, burn!

Erm, cough. Anyway, this got me thinking about our works in progress. We throw all our effort into writing our stories so, when we think we are ready to send them out into the big wide world, we're convinced our creations are masterpieces. When our manuscripts come back from our editors, critique partners, beta readers, we realise they aren't.

Our work can only improve when we are willing to set it on fire. I'm not talking about destroying our manuscripts. I'm talking about slashing and burning what doesn't need to be included. We need to be brutal to see the glow. All in the name of art.

And we have the freedom to light the fire when we don't get too attached to those scenes that took us weeks to write. With freedom comes joy. Editing no longer becomes a chore or an agony. I can take great delight in the 'flames' because I know that out of the ashes will rise a phoenix (a shiny manuscript that's closer to publication).

Do you think it's crazy to put all that effort into building those structures only to burn them? Do you have trouble letting go of those precious scenes?



  1. I saw a festival somewhere in Europe where they make these huge floats and artwork - and then burn them all. It's a bit nuts.
    As for slashing my own stuff, if it makes the story better, I'm good with it.

  2. I have recently taken up copy-editing for my business. Love it! Of course, I'm editing someone else's work rather than my own. THAT is much, much harder. But I love what you wrote about this, and I think I may be able to re-frame it in my mind so it won't be so painful anymore. (We'll see!)

    Btw, Nevada isn't so far from where I live. If you ever want to see the Burning Man festival first-hand, I would love to experience it with you. Just sayin. :)

  3. they're crazy, not cool at all :) Enjoying destruction is something very dangerous in a psychological sense.

  4. 'Our work can only improve when we are willing to set it on fire.'

    Burn, baby ... burn ?

  5. It's always hard to let go, but at times letting som characters go makes the work better!

  6. If it makes the story better than it's always better to slash and burn!

  7. I'd never heard of this! Seems crazy at first but in a way it's really beautiful. It'd be neat to see one day. And a really good perspective to have on editing.

  8. I love this train of thought - great post Lynda.

  9. Slash and burn is good. I manage that after a first draft. Oh, yes, it's hard to say goodbye to those precious ones, but oh so necessary. Love the analogy.

  10. Yes, and yes! But this was a wonderful analogy to editing, Lynda. Well done, and very informative.

  11. I think it's a little crazy to put so much work into creating something beautiful then having to 'burn' it down, but it's just part of the writing process and something we've got to accept.

    I get attached to what I write, but a the same time it feels good to cut certain scenes away. Great post today!!

  12. It may look exciting in the spectacle of the moment, but overall I think it's pretty sad. For one thing it's a waste of resources and our atmosphere probably doesn't need the smoke and fumes that are created.

    Tossing It Out

  13. Alex, that festival in Europe sounds cool

    Nim!! I personally think it's easier to edit someone else's work than my own. Good luck with your copy-editing. The Burning Man fastival would truly be amazing to witness.

    Dezzy, I enjoy the flames, not the destruction. They're so pretty.

    Suze, lol

    Riya, yes, exactly

    Nas, indeed

    Luanne, and marshmellows make it even better!

    Caitlin, I'd love to see it one day.

  14. Michelle, thanks

    Joanne, it is sometimes hard, but like yousaid, worth it.

    Alyssia, thanks

    Read, being able to say you like editing is a fantastic thing.

    Jess, I think at a certain level attachment is necessary, but so is the pruning.

    Lee, you have a point. The benefit, though, is that it brings a lot of people together who wouldn't normally come together.

  15. I'm actually really excited to get going with editing this wip - but as it's my first time, this may change :-)

  16. I'm guessing it must be free-ing to burn something you sweated to build from scratch!

    I say go for it! We need a little creative craziness in this world! Take care

  17. I used to hate crits coming back to me. Now I relish it. This last book was a lot of fun. I had two beta readers, one who told me to slash and burn, the other who told me to keep what the other wanted out.

  18. I'm still struggling with learning how to edit and revise.

    As for destroying what's been created...Nothing last forever. Even the earth and our beautiful sun will one day be gone. I think the Burning Man festival is a reminder of the ephemeralness of life, a reminder to enjoy what we have and to enjoy letting it go. (Though I do agree with Arlee as well, that it's a waste of resources and a possible cause of polution.)

    We are each of us sandcastles waiting for the tide to wash us away.

  19. Interesting! I like the idea of moving forward by destroying any means of going backward. Once it's gone, they are forced to begin the process of creation anew. It's like a fresh start. Clearing the canvas, so to speak. Thought-provoking post!

  20. I actually had two guy friends who went to Burning Man. But this was years ago, and I'm not sure it was so elaborate yet... As for editing, I actually love it. When it stops. :D

  21. I used to think every word I wrote was diamond precious. Now I can slash and burn chunks without remorse.

  22. Depends on my mood. But I don't mind letting go, knowing that there's a copy of them filed away somewhere.

  23. That DOES sound really cool...a bit like the 'sand art' you see people making on streets, only to brush it all away at the end. but on a much larger scale!

  24. I'm not a big fire fan, but I have to say those sculptures are lovely. And you're write about being willing to edit the heck out of our work even if it means tossing out scenes we really loved to begin with. Have a great day. :)

  25. I haven't really had a hard time with editing. We'll see when I get a little more into it. Beautiful metaphor.

  26. Wow, that's amazing. If I were doing that burning thing, I wouldn't make the stuff so intricate. LOL But you're right--we do that with our writing/novels. And yeah...I still have trouble getting rid of and burning off all the unnecessaries! But it's for the best. Sniff. ;o)

  27. You've made some excellent points! The agony of deleting something I spent weeks or months on is tough, but the end result is stronger writing. I try to lessen the blow by copying and pasting what I'm removing from my MS to an extras folder. I'm too attached to watch it burn. : )

  28. There's a bit of a difference though between writing and this. I mean with Burning Man...the people that put their creativity in on this generate lots of friends, get tons of attention, compliments, probably get laid in drug-fueled orgies...etc. over the course of one weekend. And the thing is so huge that you wouldn't want to have to cart it back and store it. So burning it in a celebration is just yeah it makes sense. Our Works In Progress generate none of that...and to burn it is a celebration to no one and really a waste of time. I see very little in common and there certainly are no rewards...just disappointment.

  29. Wow! This was a really great post! Sometimes I find it very difficult to "slash and burn" parts of my work that my little brain has so painstakingly made up but I know it has to be done for the sake of the whole. I do, however, save the original scenes just in case. So, technically, I'm only slashing, not burning! :-)

  30. It might seem crazy, but so are Christmas decorations or any other holiday celebration. Sometimes, it's fun to see your work and just enjoy. And, I think I'm a word hoarder since I learned about a "waste sheet" - where I paste in deleted scenes and ideas.

  31. I couldn't imagine putting all the time and effort into building something as amazing as the structures in the pictures, just to turn around and burn them.

    Now cutting scenes from a WIP is totally different. Writers aren't going to get it right the first time, so they expect to make changes.

  32. @Stacy S. Jensen: What is a "waste sheet"? I save my "pieces" to another document but if there is something better, I'm all about it.

  33. I imagine it would be incredibly difficult to let something go (in your manuscript) especially if you thought it was a perfect scene, or the best dialogue you've written. I suppose all you can do is trust in the editor.

  34. Sarah, good luck with your editing

    Old Kitty, freeing is a great word for it.

    Anne, lol, that could get confusing. You need a third beta reader.

    Bish, editing and revision is a huge part of the job. 90% I'd say. As for your thoughts on the festival, nicely worded.

    Jennifer, that's one way of doing it. I do keep the sections I delete in my WIP purely becasue sometimes I've needed to go back.

    Leigh, lol, I hear you. ;)

    Theresa, it's a good feeling isn't it.

    Angelina, yep, that's what I do as well.

    Trisha, yes, exactly.

  35. Laila, the sculptures are truly amazing. There's a whole gallery of them at the link I gave.

    Jessica, that's fantastic. I hope that ease continues for you.

    Carol, hehe neither would I! ;)

    Mark, yes indeed

    E R King, hehe I will admit that's exactly what I do as well. I can't just delete it forever.

    Michael, I didn't mean to burn our manuscripts in the literal sense. I was more talking about the freedom to let parts of it go, ie, scenes that aren't working in the novel as a whole.

    Melissa, I do the same even though it's rare I'll go back and read the tossed scenes again.

    Stacy, yes, that's also a good analogy.

    Susanne, yes, as they say, 'we need to kill our darlings'.

    Melissa, I think Stacy's "cheap sheet" is the same thing--pasting scenes and ideas into a separate document so they aren't lost forever.

    Emily, It is difficult. Sometimes I'll give it some time before I can take it out. The time gives me the distance I need.

  36. Every time I have to slash some good scenes it hurts but not as much as the first time.Usually my very good critique partners tell me why and offer suggestions so that helps alot!

  37. 100% agree with being brutal with our work. If we don't do it, someone else will :)

  38. I so agree with this. I try not to get attached until after my first draft and you're right, it does help when you begin the slasher fest.
    As for the burning thing, that really is crazy. Those things were beautiful!

  39. Yes, I do think it's crazy to build those structures just to burn them - I could never do it! Cutting my manuscript is easier, though, because like you said, out of the ashes will rise a phoenix.

  40. Lynda..nowadays I am enjoying editing. I do feel bad about burning few scenes but I look at the larger picture ( a tighter manuscript) and move on.

  41. that festival is crazy! I dont know if fire improved their structures but it certainly does provide for entertainment. As to the editing--well slashing and burning is definitely painful, but it can only make our WIP's better!


  42. Terri, yeah, that first time is a killer ;)

    Sam, exactly right.

    Deana, the odd thing is they are made more beautiful because of their transience.

    Susan, yep, I'm not sure I could either.

    Rachna, a tighter manuscript is the best reward.

    nutschell, as much as the festival seems crazy, I'd love to see it one day.

  43. I used to have a very hard time letting go--if I put hard work into a piece, I wanted to keep it--but now I'm all about slashing and burning scenes to make the story stronger.

    I heard about Burning Man, and after reading this I finally know what it's about.

  44. Burning Man is cool. I see the news clips every year. If I was only young and stupid again, I'd be there front and center.

    And its not easy to slay those sacred cows. But having a good editor makes the job that much easier.

  45. Medeia, you know you've grown as a writer when it's easier to do the slash and burn.

    Stephen, I love, love, love editors. They make writers look awesome ;)

  46. The burning man thing is an interesting exercise in not being too attached to anything. Hard, but maybe healthy?

    As for killing the darlings in my writing. Slashing and burning isn't always easy, but I find putting the text up for sacrifice in a separate document helps. Once it is out of the manuscript and in a separate file, I get used to the darlings being gone. Later, I trash that file.

  47. I have learned to let go, but it wasn't an easy process. I think the first time you really see the good that rises from the ashes so to speak it allows you to understand the need to be willing to burn it. It also has a psychological cleansing sense of accomplishment (if that makes sense)

  48. Yes, I think they are insane for burning such beautiful creations. We don't burn the beautiful parts of our manuscripts, do we? Just the yucky parts. Right?

  49. Great Analogy! I don't mind letting go!

  50. Wow. In one way it's a bit sad that they burn all those amazing structures--but it's a good metaphor for editing. And I love the phoenix idea. :)

  51. Cynthia, that's a different way of looking at the Burning Man. I agree with it being healthy not getting too attached to a thing.

    Melissa, totally makes sense. That's part of what I love about editing--that cleansing sense of accomplishment, as you put it.

    Shari, haha yes indeed.

    Maeve, that's a good thing :)

    Golden, I hope it helps.

  52. Yeah, I still have trouble burning those parts of my stories that don't work. Maybe I need to get in touch with my inner pyromaniac!!

  53. Kelworth, yes, do, it's so worth it--in terms of editing your manuscript, of course ;)


I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.