I was sitting at work today, trying (and failing) to concentrate on work stuff. The first day back from vacation is always like this for me. I think the problem is that my brain is refusing to come back from vacationland. I think it’ll show up tomorrow though. All that said, I ended up thinking about writing for some of the day, like any other moment in my life that’s not filled by something that isn’t writing. Particularly, I was thinking about Dark Mirror and editing.
As I said yesterday, I’m now editing Dark Mirror. The book is 20 chapters long, I’m doing one chapter at a time for this. Not like going nuts and insisting the chapter has to be perfect, nothing crazy like that, if I even believed that “perfect” has ever existed in reality. No, I’m just trying to avoid racing through this, so that I can take the time to do this right, to really think about what I’m trying to say and how I say it. Writing first draft is about speed for me, if for no other reason than to stay ahead of my inner editor (nya nya, you can’t catch me!). Editing should be more leisurely and thoughtful, in my only somewhat humble opinion.
Normally I edit by printing out a copy of the manuscript, grabbing a red pen or two and turning into a mark-up fiend. I then enter my changes from the now messy, crossed out, chewed up dead-tree version into the electronic version. All this while, I’m praying that I can read my own handwriting (not ever guaranteed, I have one of the world’s worst scribbles, really).
This time, I’m doing something a little different. Among other things, I don’t really want to print up 300 pages just so I can essentially crayon all over it and then either box it up or shred and recycle it. I really don’t. Also, I thought I’d try to be a little green. Hug the planet, all that stuff. So I made a pdf of my manuscript, tossed it on my iPad and grabbed a neat little pdf mark-up app called pdf-notes. So far, it’s been going well. I’ve gone through 4 chapters with it and, after a little bit of learning, I like it. I like being able to undo my marks, change my mind, etc, things I can’t do on dead tree. Once pen hits paper, you’re stuck with that mark. It’s got a bunch of different tools for mark-up, but I’m sticking with the traditional red pen, with sticky notes for adding text/changing words. When I’m done, I follow the rest of the usual path, entering changes in the electronic file. I’ll probably keep the final marked-up pdf for archival purposes, since that’s easier than keeping 300 pages on hand.
Generally, as I enter my changes from the dead-tree/electronic mark-up, I end up changing a lot more. It’s like I’ve had more time to think and digest by the time I get to the entering stage. It’s always seemed like my method turns it from a single edit to a double-pass. Two edits for the price of one, such a deal. By now, I’m used to this approach and I rather like it. But it feels like I’d doing much more of the extra changes than usual this time. I don’t think it’s that I’m marking up less with the pdf than I would with the dead-tree either. I’m not even sure if this is anything more than a correlation, a coincidence of circumstance and timing. The thing is that a lot of things have changed for me since the last time I edited any of my own fiction. We can start with the fact that it’s been a while. It’s been many months since I even tried, in fact. Then we can move our tour of Julie’s Editing Mind (no sniggering at the back) to the fact that it’s the first time I’ve edited a finished novel. Ever. Remember, I had never finished a novel before DM, and I didn’t so much edit the first draft as completely toss it out and start fresh again (not without good reason, but that’s not the point). I’m in somewhat uncharted waters here, and it’s making me think more about how I’m shaping this piece. The next stop on this tour is the amount that I’ve learned about the craft and myself as a writer/storyteller in the many moons since I last did try to edit my own work. I think a lot of that is going into the greater volume of edits, come to think of it.
Also, and I definitely don’t want to skip over this, but I think it deserves it’s own paragraph, I wrote this draft in fifteen days. That’s it, start to finish. There’s no polish at all when you work that quickly, none. And now I get to do all that polishing I didn’t do while writing before I can even think about sending it to test readers, because polish can change a lot, including plot elements on occasion, and there’s no point in wasting your test readers’ time with something you’re already changing before they even finish reading it. No, I’ll polish it now and then put it aside while the test readers have their say.
My plan is to work on something else (like maybe first draft of Possession) while I wait for DM to come back from the test readers, just so I won’t be tempted to go back and tweak some more while they have it. Most writers I’ve ever known will tweak a piece forever, never quite happy with it, if nothing intervenes to force them out of that pattern. I’m actually planning on not doing that. There will almost certainly be edits, massages, work to be done when it comes back, but I refuse to be one of those writers who never submits or publishes because they’re waiting for it to be perfect. You can try that forever and never reach it. I think I’d rather publish something, even if it’s the more normal state of imperfect than nothing at all. You have to publish, after all, to get it in front of the audience’s eyes.
And, on that note, I’m including another picture for you. Perhaps I’ll make a habit of doing this, just to make me get some of that work out there too. After all, new year, time to push myself out there a bit more, right?