I don’t know what kind of writer you are. You might be the kind who works each sentence until it’s perfect before moving on to the next one, lining up the words in exacting order for the most impact and literary explosiveness.

If so then this blog might not do you much good. lol

This advice is for the writers like me. The indulgent ones who spew words on their first drafts, who write with an abandon of language, allowing all the sentences to run amok on the page. I sling phrases and concepts around during my first draft, just acting like they are free and I can have as many as my greedy little, or not-so-little fingers can conjure.

The result, for me anyways, is a first draft bloated like Elvis on a toilet and full of sentences that I love, words I adore.

That’s all fine and good. First drafts should be made of love. It’s what carries the day and gets you to the end of each writing session.

But once that first draft is finished that shizz is over.

Put your love draft away, tuck it in a drawer, lock it up and clean up your mess until a bit of time has passed. Go to a movie, hang out with friends, talk to your kids, read a book. Get some distance between you and that book you just wrote.

Now go pull it out of it’s drawer.

It’s time to edit that manuscript like you hate it.

I mean it.  Really get in there with your elbows and beat the ever-living snot out of it. Have a lot of tricky dialog that tells the reader exactly what the characters are thinking? Slash it to the bone. Ditch every unnecessary thing that you already showed us or will show us soon.

All those flowing sentences of description? Cut them to the essentials. If you use two words to express one concept then cut one of them, the weaker one. Editing is literary Darwinism. It’s Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom in there and only the strong survive.

Lean, lean, lean. Cut, cut, cut. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is safe….hell NOBODY wants to read a safe story. Not me, not you, not your editor, not your reader, not even your grandmother who loves you more than she loves chocolate chip cookies.  Safe stories are boring as hell.

Remember, editing is where you turn your manuscript into something interesting. How? By taking away. That over explaining you keep doing because you really really really want your reader to know how cool this world is you created needs to die a horrible death. Your reader will be much more interested in the barest hints you will breadcrumb through than in the wikipedia article you wrote and inserted during your first draft. Trust me, if you read my first book you will see that I fell victim to this. I didn’t trust my reader and I wanted to show off my coolness so I inserted wayyyyy tooo muuuuuch exposition. Check the reviews on BLOOD AND BULLETS. Any of the 1 and 2 star reviews will tell you over and over again how repetitive and over-explainy I got.

Don’t fall into this. Be better than me. Edit your book like you hate it.  It’ll be stronger for it.


And in the news arena, for those of you who haven’t heard elsewhere I want to proudly and loudly announce that I am now being represented by Magical Words very own Two-Fisted Daredevil of literary agents Miss Lucienne Diver!

Shortly after I began shopping my first novel I discovered her and she quickly moved into the top slot of my dream agents.  I am pleased as punch at this development. Sometimes it just takes a little patience and hard work to get exactly what you want.


9 comments to DRINK YOUR HATER-ADE (or editing)

  • Taking the love-hate relationship we all have with writing to a completely new place. Great post, James. And HUGE congrats on your news. Lucienne is wonderful — you’ll love working with her; and I know she’ll love working with you, too.

  • Ditto what David said. Congratulations on being married to Lucienne. 🙂
    And yes. You have to hate every word, phrase, paragraph, bit of dialogue, and scene to do an edit right. We grow as writers by being ruthless with our products. They aren’t babies. They are works of art. And no statue is born without the unnecessary parts being chiseled away.

  • Tasha Turner

    Great advice. Wow those reviews were tough. Congrats on your news.

  • Vyton

    Great post. The love/hate approach will be very helpful. Congratulations on getting Ms. Diver as your agent.
    Faith, I like the statue reference. Chisel away everything that doesn’t look like a giraffe.

  • Thank Y’all.
    And Tasha, yep, those reviews ARE tough and mostly justified….a LOT of folks still loved book one, but it being the first book I ever wrote, the rough edges show big time.

  • Congratulations to you (and Lucienne)! I love this perspective on editing. I’m already imagining myself sneering at my draft. “Oh, you think you’re so big and important. Just wait ’til I get my hands on you and then we’ll see what’s important.”

  • Adrian

    Congrats! I’m in a long hard slog of an edit myself and would much rather read your posts (or books) than wrestle my own rebellious words into submission. Hmm…

    Maybe you could edit this post longer? 😀

  • Pretty much how I work. I’m still shocked when I go through my work later and realize that, even after feeling like I added words, I end up with either close to the same final or less, because I found better, more concise ways to convey the information, plus added useful things I missed as I sped through the work. It balances, but it’s always better for it.

  • I am so saving this post for December 1st (or in NaNo speak, The TGIO). Great stuff. Thanks, James!