Tag Archives: editing

Do You Think Things Through?

Do you ever in your haste to get things done, give in to a bit of mental laziness and not think things through enough? Or do you make a mental note to fix something and then later forget to do it?

Don’t be hasty.

We all want our writing and our stories to be good, the best we can make them. Powerful writing gets noticed even in a flooded marketplace. But I think, too, we can be tempted–or even succumb to the temptation at times–to conclude that what we have written is good enough and to ignore that quiet, nagging voice that says, “you need to check that” or “that’s not quite right” or “is my writing dull here?”

This is important for all writing.

I’m going to use examples below from fiction writing, but of course the need for careful thought applies to nonfiction writing too.

What about first drafts?

Now just in case you want to say to me at this point: “Yeah, but I like to write by my intuition, my heart, and make it up as I go.”  If you do want to say that, let me add, “I’m with you. When you’re writing that first draft or plowing through your word-count for the Nano contest, go for it. Burn through it. Absolutely. But, as we’ve all heard, good writing is re-written. So I absolutely also recommend careful and thorough thinking-through after that hot piece of writing has cooled down. Even invite your critical left-brain to go for it big-time.”

So what are my points on thinking things through?

1. Thinking-through is vital for depth in writing.

Careful thought can uncover meaning in your story you didn’t see before, themes, symbols, clever twists. Depth can add value and enjoyment for your reader. You might just come up with insights that take your work from good to great.

2.  Thinking-through is vital for plausibility.

Would your character really do that?

Yesterday, I was stuck. I realized that in a key chapter in my novel, I had my protagonist too easily let his 12-year-old daughter, his one and only remaining loved one, go on an obviously dangerous outing. Something no caring parent would do. Yet what happens on that outing is essential to my plot, so I was pushing my luck. I needed to get her on that outing. Then I thought it through and came up with a solution: miscommunication.

Plausibility is super-important whether you’re writing a realistic this-world story or a fantasy with a setting in a strange and alien world. Things still have to make sense to your reader.

3. Does it work all the way through?

Thinking things through is vital to assure that your story or copy works all the way through. Without that careful thought, it’s oh so easy to miss the need for a transition, the need for a brief explanation, or the realization that you have your character acting decidedly out of character–and many other possible problems you need to fix.

And the best thinking-through includes asking the question: how will my reader react to what I have written?

4.  Thinking things through also can open you up to the possibilities.

How about those lovely surprises that tie things together at the end? Surprises that readers love, that make your reader say, for example, “Oh, yeah, now I know why he didn’t propose!” Also, taking the time re-read your chapters and do some hard thinking can remind you to follow-up on those hints (plants) you crafted early-on and forgot about after several thousand more words.

Todd Henry in his excellent book The Accidental Creative writes: “Assumptions can be disastrous to our creative process because they limit how we look at problems” (page 72). We can, if we are not careful, let assumptions artificially limit our options (Page 75).. Don’t assume it all works until you have checked it and you’re sure.

Don’t miss choice opportunities that can make your work move vivid, more alive. Or as Jerry Cleaver wrote in his book Immediate Fiction, while emphasizing the need for constant conflict and suspense, “Can you make it worse?”

Dare I add…

Careful thought for important life-decisions can be a good idea too? Most of our decisions offer more than one option, and decisions can be powerful.

Back to writing.

My experience with getting seriously stuck made me realize that I need to go back and think through my novel–at least at every major point in the plot–and not just when I get stuck.

How about you?

Do you ask yourself hard and uncomfortable questions about your story or your copy? What do you do when you get stuck?


How long or how short and how much cutting is a good idea?

Don’t miss an excellent article on the length of sentences and pieces of writing at Write to Done:

Here: http://writetodone.com/2013/06/10/how-miniskirts-will-make-your-prose-sexier-the-golden-rule-of-length/

Sometimes short is good. Sometimes long is good. It depends on how well you write and what you want to say.

Some cutting is nearly always a good idea, but it is all too possible to go to far.


Is Minimalist Writing the Only Way To Go?

“Make every word count” is certainly good advice. I’ve read that in a number of  of how-to books I respect.  But is it always best to opt for minimalist writing?

It’s certainly true that cutting is a key revision technique.  Cut out the fat. Eliminate those words, phrases and sentences that just  aren’t helping convey your meaning.

However,  I think too that it’s just possible to go to far in editing our writing that way.  When does clean and concise writing become terse and even hard to read?  After all, eliminate enough words and no one will understand you.

One blogger, whom I respect, recently posted the opinion that there are words that should be eliminated from our writing, like “really” and “very,” because, she implied, they don’t pull their weight and can make you, the writer, sound overly anxious to be convincing.

More than one excellent writer-teacher has advocated eliminating all adverbs, or nearly all of them from our writing.  Sure a good editing practice is to take a hard look at the adverbs in our writing.  Theodore Cheney, in his Getting the Wrods Right: How to Revise, Edit & Rewrite, advises us soundly:

The secret of good prose writing is to try first to express the thought with only verbs and nouns [make that strong verbs and specific nouns].  Then, in revision, decide whether they absolutely must be modified to get across the meaning and mood. (page 151)

Others tell us to virtually never use the passive voice.  Never?  How about when the subject of the verb is victimized by the action of the verb. (for example, see Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark, pages 23-26). One of Clark’s examples: “The teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined.”

Here’s a rather famous paragraph from Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style:

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Certainly that’s good advice, generally.  But must we always write with robotic efficiency, fearful of slipping up and leaving in an–oh my–unnecessary word or two?  Must we march always in lockstep with the gurus of precision and propriety?  Whatever happened to being human at least occasionally? How about playfulness, humor, even a little–dare I say it?–wordiness just once in a while?

I had a grad school professor who had a saying: “They get on their hobby horse and want to ride it all the way to the sunset.”

Another  saying comes to mind, an old one, from the Roman playwright Terrence, circa 150BC: “Moderation in all things.” It’s still good advice.

Course Mark Twain typically had his own take on that: “Moderation in all things including moderation.”Wink

My advice is to listen carefully to the wisdom of the pros, the principles they promote, the rules they would have us write by.   But when you face your latest writing effort, don’t forget creativity, personality, and pluck.

Be your own boss.



Right-Brain Editing

Be like Luna Lovegood, only not all the time.

Luna Lovegood could make a good writer, certainly fun to read. She’s strange at times but always charming, entertaining,  coming up with off-the-wall comments. Some don’t make sense, but at other times she surprises with some rather wise ideas. For me, whether I’m reading the Harry Potter novels or watching one of the movies, she makes a scene come alive. She’s definitely a right-brain gal.

So how does that relate to editing? When we edit we need to pay attention to the right-brain’s intuition, not just the left-brain’s critique.

                              Courtesy http://www.pdphoto.org/ 

Free writing
is a carnival ride.

No doubt you know about freewriting. Ray Bradbury, who likes carnivals, is an advocate of getting wild in our first drafts, pushing the limits, leaving the crazy stuff in. Because we can go back later and edit out anything we decide doesn’t really work. You could say, then, that freewriting is best done in a heavily right-brain mode: dreamy, sometimes bizarre, startling and even poetic at times.

                                   PET scan of a normal brain.  Source Wikimedia Commons

Editing is much more sensible.
You also know, I’m sure, that editing belongs more to the left-brain sector. We need our critic mode to pare off those too-nutty phrases, that humor that reaches too much, or those just-too-spicy words. Writing can of course be lyrical and poetic and playful, but we need it to make sense too.

But here’s the thing.
When writing a first draft, i’ts important to turn-off/ignore the left-brain’s pickiness so that the words flow uninhibited. And it is just as important to pay attention and stay open to input from our intuition. Like a smart lady, she wants to be heard.

At best it’s a team effort
There’s been a lot written on right-brain verses left-brain, but a key point is that we never function in only one sector of our amazing brain, not totally. The research has shown this. The two sides are physically connected. So there is a channel between them for relating. The content can flow between them. Like a couple working together.

So when I edit, I work at keeping in mind that even while my left-brain is reveling in his authoritative role, and often doesn’t like interruptions, I’d best pay attention to my intuition.

After all, you never know what she’ll come up with.