Friday, April 9, 2010

Edits, Rewrites, And Selling Your Soul

Author G.B. Pool has plenty of experience editing her work, and with one novel and a list of anthologies under her belt, her methods must work!







Every “How to Write” book has a chapter on “Editing and Rewriting.” Whatever you write can always be improved by a careful edit, and thoughtful look-over, and a final rewrite to tweak those areas that don’t sound right. You could spend the rest of your life rewriting if you aren’t careful. Hopefully you have a friend who tells you to stop before you rewrite the life out of your work.

Over-writing is a problem we can all have when we are looking for the perfect word or phrase. Maybe you should try looking for the best word, and not worry about perfection. Perfection is stuffy. Walk away from your work, literally, go into another room, and think about what you want to say in that section. The words that come into your head, off the cuff, will be truer than the ones you agonized over. Spontaneity is always fresher. Write it down and then leave it alone.

As for basic editing like grammar, spelling, and punctuation, have someone else do it for you. Just like parents who never see flaws in their children, even the two-headed ones or the ones who wind up in jail, you will miss errors in your own work.

Join a writers’ group, ask a teacher, or pay a professional to go over your work. Even if your Aunt Mabel is a professional editor, too often a friend or relative will be too kind. (They will overlook the two-headed kid, too.) An agent or publisher won’t be kind. They will toss your error-laden manuscript in the trash and remember you the next time as the person who can’t submit a professional piece of work.

Make sure that writers’ group you join isn’t afraid to point out mistakes, holes, or continuity problems. A good teacher will know how to get out the red pencil and correct grammatical errors. And a professional editor has seen it all before and will know how to spot obvious errors. It’s worth the money.

So you rewrite, edit, polish and submit. And an agent likes your work. Hoorah! Your characters are memorable. The plot is appealing. The agent handles that genre. They know a few publishers in that genre. Everything is wonderful…but…

It’s the “but” that will have you asking yourself, “How much of my story will I change to get it published?” If the change doesn’t amount to much, I’d rewrite it in a heartbeat.

But what if your agent loves everything except one of the key points in the story around which everything revolves. Should you tell her she should really read the entire book to see how it fits together, or do you try to adjust the part she doesn’t like to suit her?

A screenwriter will tell you once you submit your script, a thousand hands will rework it, reshape it, and in the end you won’t recognize anything but the title…if they keep the title. Screenplays aren’t novels.

How much of your book are you willing to change for someone else? Granted the agent has the contacts, the clout, the name recognition that could get you published. But what will you be giving up? Your name goes on the cover. You are the one who will be explaining why the plot missed the mark…for eternity. You have to make that decision.

My advice: First, find a way to explain to the agent/publisher exactly why you can’t change that major plot point. Thank them for pointing out the fact you didn’t write that part clear enough and say that you will tweak that section. If that doesn’t work, ask yourself: What do I value most?

And remember: Your agent might be wrong.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent article, Gayle. You are a "natural" teacher. Your points are clear, they resonate with writers (well at least they do with me), your advice comes from experience (not from what you've simply heard or read), you tell it like it is, and you inspire confidence (what every writer needs). Thanks for a great, succinct (even a touch humorous) and helpful post.

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  2. Important information, Gayle, and right on. Sometimes I think the final edits before publication are one of the most important aspects of telling a good story. It takes confidence and experience, I think, to master the process. Good article!

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