The Art of Editing

One of the hard truths about being a writer is that “writing” is about 20% of the job.

That might be an exaggeration, but there’s definitely truth to it. The writing part is fast. Assuming you have an outline, and you’ve written a book a few times, it’s a matter of cranking it out.

I use what I like to call “the landmark method.” A new story is the great unknown, but there are images and scenes that stick out. Those are you landmarks. You got them down, and try to string a path of words to each one. You have about thirty “landmarks” and as long as you get to each of them, you’ll have a complete story.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that, but that’s the gist of it. And it’s worked pretty well for me so far.

A writer spends a big chunk of time on editing. This is the part a lot of people aren’t aware of. This is where the magic happens.

Here’s an example of a raw sentence pulled from my manuscript without context:

“Dust and gravel lined the floor, and it was clear that the wind and elements had had some time to make a mess of it; the door was still there, just weather-beaten and wide open, seeming frozen in place.”

That sentence is a mouthful. But sentences like that are common in a first draft. After picking away at it for a minute or two, this is what it turned into:

“Dust and gravel littered the floor. The wind and elements had made a real mess of the cabin, over a period of weeks or even months. The weather-beaten door hung wide open. Ice encased the hinges, having frozen it into place.”

It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better. The raw example is one long sentence, while the refinement is broken down into four sentences. Breaking down the sentences allowed me to even add some new information. If I added any new info to the first one, it would have made a complicated sentence even more complicated.

I changed “lined” to “littered”. Lined implies all the gravel is in a line, not the effect I was going for.

Now, multiply those sentences over the course of an entire novel. Or a series! And you can see why this takes so long to do and requires a lot of patience.

Of course, I could refine that further. Make it perfect and make it pop. There are needless words that could be eliminated. The trick is finding the right balance between refining and speed. If I got bogged down, spending ten minutes per sentence, nothing would ever get done.

I’m not sure why I wrote this. I guess I wanted to give you guys a little insight into the writing process.

Comment Section

  • Wow, your refined sentence drew in my mind a much more detailed picture. Fascinating how changing a few words could do that.

    • Editing in its essence is reducing the writing as much as possible without losing meaning. There are a lot of “filler” words that sort of produce drag on prose. Most adverbs, “that”, “just”, and more. It might be my favorite part of the process, but it’s hard work.

  • Thank you for outlining your process. How an author goes through the process of writing their book is always interesting. Can’t wait to see what your final version will be. Each writer has their own way to get to the end and I love being part of it no matter how small.

    Hope you and yours are doing well during this difficult time. Are you guys ready for the addition to your family? I’m excited for both of you.
    Be safe.

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