View From The Glen

Monday, November 29, 2010

Red Lining

Why can't a writer edit their own work?

That's the question I was asked the other day after my editing post came out.

Well, you can, Of course you can. And you should. Absolutely. 

But an editor will take it that one step further. Because when you have written it, you stop seeing what you wrote and see instead what you meant. And they are two different things.

Another reason you can't edit your own work is that you become too attached to your words. Words you carefully chose. Words you don't want to, can't, let go of.

An editor does not have the same emotional attachment. It's like decluttering. If you do it yourself, you keep things you don't need. If a good friend helps they say things like: grade 11 history essay - from 20 years ago...Do you need this? No, you do not. TOSS! while you cringe in pain in the corner, your cries of protest unheeded. An editor is like that very good friend.

Last week I wrote this post at midnight. I'm not in the habit of closely editing blog posts, but when I looked at this particular one the next morning, the editor in me went Hmmm.

The last paragraph read:

Wrapped in my plaid, I made my way out of the stove-warmed kitchen, adjusting to the cold of the unheated mud-room, slamming the window down hard. Telling myself I need to replace the naked light bulb that lights the room in an eerie yellow glow. Turning it off and opening the back door to stand on the steps and whistle for the dog. My eyes adjusting to the darkness, the moon casting a grey sheen over the world, and clouds scurrying past, just like I imagine they must have for Merrily Watkins. In the book.

If I were to red line my own work from that night it would look something like this:
  1. Passive voice intentional? (wrapped, made, adjusting, slamming, telling..) Would it be more effective in an active voice?
  2. Plaid - meaning??? does the reader understand this?
  3. mud-room should be two words, not hyphenated
  4. "the naked light bulb that lights.." - repetition of word light; also obvious - a light bulb lights - suggest revision to make image stronger
  5. lights - is this the tense you want? lit?
  6. Fragmented sentences - intentional for pace?
  7. "clouds scurrying past" - cliche - can we find a better description, something more original that sets the scene
  8. ref. to Merrily - is there enough background for the reader to get this ref? Should we expand on it in previous paragraphs?
So eight comments on a five and a half line paragraph. And that's just round one - the things I see right off the bat.

To return to that attachment issue writers have, even after doing this exercise and deliberately being harsh with myself, I still have a voice in my head saying that I don't need to change the words. Saying No, that's exactly what I want to say and how I want that to look. Saying 'Stet' (polite editing language for leave my stuff the f*&% alone).

Well, maybe it is exactly right. But you need a hard-headed editor to challenge you on some of the things you might not ordinarily see for yourself. 


Leanne Haines said...

I totally get it. But it still scares the crap out of me to have an editor get ahold of my work!

Julie said...

I still want to correct grammar and spelling when I read books - actually I automatically do in my head- even when I know it is intentional for the character or scene. And personally, I liked the scene you set on that post - though not as cute as picturing the little Christmas Elf.

Laura said...

Thank you for answering that question. I wondered the same thing, but felt silly to ask.