May 23, 2011

fixing problems in the manuscript

I’ve been a bit quiet over the course of the last two weeks. Starting two Mondays ago, I checked out. I was ready for some Florida sand and sun, and nothing could hold my attention for longer than ten minutes. As a result, I failed to write anything at all, I failed to tweet consistently, and I failed to blog enthusiastically. I apologize for this. Vacation is my ultimate nemesis.

Good things came from this “break” however. I enjoyed the seaweed-infested gulf. There was a lot of swimming, seashell hunting, and lounging. I managed a tan without a sunburn first (score!), and I only gained two pounds from all the eating. But to be honest, I was ready to come home two days early. I missed my dog terribly (to the point of tears, no joke), and I missed the comforts of home, namely, my own bed. Another thing that drove my desire to be home: the urge to work on my manuscript.

I had my manuscript with me, thanks to my handy-dandy laptop, but I refused to work on it while on vacation. Nothing good would have come of it. I was too distracted by the beach to be able to write productively. As the week wore on, my manuscript wiggled its way to the forefront of my mind. When I last left it, I had written a somewhat exciting scene that I enjoyed, but I knew that something was wrong with what I had written. Something felt off. Instead of working through it and fixing the problem, I ignored it, pushed it to the back of my mind, and tried to forget about it. The two weeks away helped work out what exactly was wrong with the scene, and as the vacation neared its end, I formulated a plan to fix it.

Most of this novel-doctoring came while I was taking my many showers throughout the day: once when I woke, then when I came in from the beach, then when I came in from the pool, then when I came in from the beach again… etc. And these were nice, long, glorious showers. Up to thirty minutes at minimum! I’m so used to showering for only five minutes in the morning here, due to our terrible water heater and wasteful showerhead, that the extra time lent itself to more creative thought, beyond the usual shampoo, wash face, soap up, rinse. I made a plan to fix the broken scene before I moved on to the next one.

There is a debate between writers on which is better: editing as you go, or editing after the fact.

Some writers believe that writing with no regard to plotting, grammar, sentence structure, etc. is the way to do, worrying only about how many words are on the page. I used to be this writer. With my first novel, my only concern was how many words I had written. It didn’t matter if they were utter crap or utter genius. They were merely words, and if they needed fixing, I could do so after I had finished the novel. To be fair, I finished that novel rather quickly. On the other hand, it took me even more time to fix what I had written.

Before my first serious endeavor into writing a novel, I was an editorial writer. I edited as I wrote, fixing things as I went. I wrote essays, short stories, and poetry this way. My many unfinished novels were written this way. When I decided to actually finish a novel, my goal was merely to reach my word count goal. It didn’t matter if the novel was good because I could edit it later. Writing a novel is hard work. Writing a novel twice is even harder. I gave up on that novel during the course of the rewrite. It had exhausted all of my energy to the point where thinking of that novel made me nauseous. It still makes me twinge just a bit.

So when I dove into Chroniker City, the steampunk project, I had it in my mind to write it right the first time. Now, when writing, I work deliberately, finding the perfect words or turns of phrase to best execute an idea, making sure sentences flow rhythmically, and keeping consistent with characterization. It takes a lot of time to write this way, nearly twice as long as writing without abandon. But in my mind, it’s the right way to write.

My friend and critique partner Darby said it this way (taking from something she read in a book on craft): when we take time to write well the first round, then we are training ourselves to write well. When we write sloppy just for the sake of speed, we are only training ourselves to write badly.

This struck a chord with me, and it bolstered my resolve to continue writing this way, even if it meant I wouldn’t hit my 1000 word goal each day. While there is no excuse for not writing these past couple weeks, I am committed to stop ignoring the problems I come across and fix them as they need fixing. I won’t move on without feeling at least 95% sure that what I have written is good. And I won’t avoid my novel when it’s giving me problems.

Are you an editorial writer? How do you keep going when you’re stuck?


  1. I'm one of those who edit as I go. I've done it for so long that I'm not sure I could stop now, although I'll sometimes make myself finish a paragraph or even a scene before going back and making fixes.

    How do I keep going when I'm stuck? Well, there's either writing in a different part of the story, or just taking a break & letting my sub-conscious work it out. That's about it.

  2. I'm glad you had a nice vacation, Brooke, and came back refreshed. Time away really helps to see a story from a new perspective.

    About editing -- I tend to write in sections. I'll write a few chapters, purely writing, but not necessarily trying to speed through. Then I'll go through and edit before I move on to the next. However, I still have a ton of editing to do when I've reached the end.

    I find I don't stick to any one method. Each story, for me, requires a different approach.

  3. Your CP is wise in my book! I tend to take my time as I write--sometimes that means I'm slower, and though sometimes I abandon general writing decorum to speed through a scene I'm really passionate about, I usually edit at least a little as I go. I think getting persnickety about fixing grammar or word choice is silly before the first revision--it's likely to change anyway--but I do quite a bit of catching and fixing as I go anyway, without really making a grand effort of it. It does save time on the other end :)

  4. Brooke, I HAVE got to find that book where I read that wonderful piece of advice...

  5. I definitely edit as I go. I wouldn't say it stops me all the time, but it does slow me down. There are moments when I make myself write without editing, usually when I have a time limit.

    By the way, I used to live in FL! Glad you enjoyed your vacation :)

  6. Thanks all for the comments! I find most writers edit as they go, even if it's minor. I tend to rewrite entire paragraphs or pages if I'm not happy with them. Most of the time, I luckily only have to change a word or two, a phrase at most, before heading on.

    When I get stuck, I try tweaking a tiny bit of the scene, like the setting or POV, to help get the juices flowing again. You wouldn't believe how many scenes in this wip alone were written in 3rd POV, then 1st POV, and then back to 3rd.