There is something to be said about editing your novel. I’ll focus on fiction since that’s where I am most comfortable. My writing buddy Night-mare and I are struggling through her revisions. She got stuck at a difficult scene and recently managed to break through, creating an enormously more powerful scene. Now we’re onto another turning point in the story and she’s fighting it again. I feel a little helpless sometimes, since I’m not the one struggling through the scenes, but I remember very clearly when I went through something like twenty-three drafts for Skull Juggler: Disenchanted before I finally gave it up for self publication.

In many respects, self publishing was a hundred times harder than traditional publishing, not because of the usual reasons you might think of: the stress of the publication process, finding an agent, not succeeding. No, it was harder because I would just not be satisfied with the story I had written. I went over it and over it, adding thousands of words with each revision, cutting entire scenes and replacing them with even more stuff. In the end, I’m still not completely satisfied with the novel but there is something definitively liberating about releasing your work out into the world and saying, “There, I’ve finished it. If I tweak it any more, I’ll never get started on something new.”

I’ve been experimenting with my own writing as of late, specifically because I’ve finally cultivated the discipline to write every day. I write very fast so in a month’s time, I’ve usually got over 50,000 new words to play with. I’ve been creating and creating for several years now – I think it may be time to sit down and force an edit once again.

The problem is that I’ve only just figured out some fundamental necessities of writing. Were I to talk about someone else’s manuscript, I’m sure I would have told them the same things I failed to see in my own writing. I’ll list my lessons here and please, do laugh at them with me. They are so obvious now, so painfully obvious, but being suddenly made aware of them by others has helped me vastly improve my own writing. Check your writing and see if you’re guilty of any of these:

1)   Clear beginning, middle, and end. When I wrote fanfiction regularly in my teens, I developed a reputation for always leaving things at a “cliffhanger.” I delighted in pushing a story’s tension to the breaking point and then leaving off the chapter for next week’s assignment. I got so good at this, in fact, that I always lost interest in my stories the second it came time to write the actual climax scene. I had something like a dozen stories posted with dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of reviews, all eager for the culmination of the tension I’d built… and I never got around to it. This became painfully obvious in my original writing, as I built it up, built it up, and nothing happened. The story simply ended. I think that may be one of the biggest issues I had writing my book: nothing happened. So now I envision my stories as a complete project (instead of next week’s update) and have focused on building to a particular point. I wrote my very first climax scene just last night for my fanfiction story, Lunar Expedition. It was immensely successful in my head, on (metaphorical) paper, and great practice for the original stories I’m working on.

2)   Extraneous characters. If I needed some plot hole covered up or for the story to move in a particular direction, my usual strategy was to create a one-line, description-less character who appeared and disappeared just long enough to mention his or her name (first and last name, otherwise I worried that the character would feel two-dimensional) and then promptly never be heard from again. I had more useless characters than plot by the end and I kept changing my mind about how important they were (an old, cliché advisor became the queen’s secret lover; a lowly steward became the leader of a rebel alliance). It was just my main character surrounded by a sea of unnecessary faces. When I realized I was doing this (at about edit fourteen), I created a new character… but this one wasn’t any side character. He became a cornerstone for the entire story, for the entire series I had dreamed up in my head. He also happened to do half the jobs these extra characters had been in charge of, so I could get rid of all my extraneous characters. That alone made my story a hundred times better. So look at your characters (especially the nameless ones that move the plot along without being necessary) and cut them if you can.

3)   Description can be good and bad. I love reading good descriptions in books. Not Jane Eyre’s commentary on the weather but authors like Maureen Johnson and Carrie Vaughn, two very different authors who pick out unique descriptions that instantly put an image in your head. The details are so descriptive and personal (the way they see the world is unique), I am constantly sucked into the world they weave around me. I’ve only recently started emulating that, trying to use memorable descriptions that help a reader see what I see, instead of the information dump that only bogged down my narratives before. On the other hand, my early writing lacked description of any kind. I was in such a rush to get to the plot that I didn’t stop to smell the roses, as it were. Description is definitely an art, and not just visual. I tend to be swayed more by a surprising description for smell and taste than for the most creative visual description.

I’ve learned a lot of these lessons through trial and error rather than advice or tips others have given me. Then again, I’m a stubborn writer who likes to learn through doing. I’ve found that when I challenge myself to write something more difficult, I exceed my expectations. I think editing pushes the envelope even more, forcing writers to go beyond the raw creative process and polish the work the way it should be presented to the world.

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