what is editing – glossing over a few cracks or a full-blown makeover?

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My sister is visiting  at the end of the week – yeh hey 🙂  She’ll be sleeping in my daughter’s old bedroom. The thing is, the room looked pretty shabby so I decided to give it a bit of a freshen up. At first I was just going to give the walls a lick of paint but the carpet was so shot, I decided to pull it up and dump it. That meant new flooring. Luckily, there was a special offer at Floors4u and I’ve got this great wooden floor to lay,  just as soon as I’ve finished painting. As I was changing the floor, I thought I may as as well do the ceiling – there’s been a huge crack in it forever which badly needed fixing. Suddenly, it’s Tuesday, I’m still painting and plastering and the room looks will it will never be ready and I am wondering why I ever started! Fortunately, a couple of hours ago the calvary arrived in the shape of my daughter. Phew! Together we’ll get the room finished and it’ll look great – and worth all the effort 🙂

room1 What has decorating got to do with editing? Well, freshening up a bedroom is not unlike editing a story… you put it off and put it off because, frankly, it’s a hassle. Then when you finally start,  you’re just looking to tidy up the odd spelling mistake and misplaced comma. But, little by little, you realise the story is full of cracks – and there is no helpful daughter on a ladder to assist you. You are tempted to gloss over the cracks, after all, they’re not that bad, are they? But the more you look, they more you know you can’t ignore the tired sentences; the iffy plot that doesn’t quite work; the monotonous paragraphs that drag the writing down; the two dimensional characters that are flat and wooden, yes, wooden!  You face your fears and start digging out the rot and mending the mistakes. It will probably take much longer than you anticipated and you will wonder why you started – more than once. You will be miserable. But eventually you will be done and it will be worth it because editing is your last chance to be truthful to yourself and to make your story as good as it can be, to make it great 🙂

If you are a reader, can you remember coming across ‘cracks’ in stories? Did they put you off? Do you think there are more cracks in stories nowadays? If you are a writer, do you agree with me? How important is editing to you?

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9 Responses to what is editing – glossing over a few cracks or a full-blown makeover?

  1. Dara says:

    I was just thinking on this last night because, I’m more frequently seeing stories – even bestsellers – that have a lot of issues… and I blame the editor for not fixing them. Maybe it’s our need-everything-now/got-no-time society, maybe there’s too much out there today, I don’t know. But I don’t believe it was so common in the past, and I know it’s not entirely the author’s fault. I get it, they’re so exicted about writing a debut novel, or the follow-up in a sequel, and they’re too close to the material to see. Often, I feel like these books need another few years to fully “bake.” (Or maybe the writers need this time to grow). The biggest issue I have (outside of the repetitive sentances, phrases, plot holes, and flat characters that should have been corrected) is that the flaws give the book a patchwork feel… too much borrowed from other novels to peice it together, like a Frankenstein effect. The parts somehow worked together enough to get someone published, but the book lacks a spirit, a soul. Something I think can totally be corrected with more editing!

    • Hi Dara, a big thanks for dropping by 🙂 Poor editing seems to be a complaint lots of readers have. Like you, I think this is the result of no one thing … but it is a fact that more and more publishing houses are cutting costs and “editing” is a cost. This means it is even more important for us writers to be able to “self edit”. But, as you say, it is not easy to be objective. We writers are often too close to our stories. One of the great ways to get distance is through time and by leaving our novel for a month or two or three or four or even more. But, yes, we are sometimes in such a hurry to see our work published that we charge ahead before our novel is fully formed. The problem is that once the work is printed, there’s no going back and any “Frankenstein cracks” are there to stay, distracting the reader for posterity – and the writer!
      Thanks again for your comment 🙂

  2. Ruth F Hunt says:

    My local bookshop is kind/feels sorry for me, and gives me proof copies of soon to be published books free. It is then where you can spot the small problems , the odd typo or problematic punctuation. I know most writers would be mortified to let their books out with problems. Such as Jon Franzen who ordered back copies of his book that was published with errors. I’m getting my book edited but I know in the kindle/amazon world people will be thinking they can avoid the cost. However, readers will be unlikely to buy again from such authors.

    • I think that it must be fascinating to read proofs before they are published in that almost finished state. You are lucky – and what a kind bookseller 🙂 I have to say, though, I get where Jon Franzen is coming from. There is almost nothing worse for an author – or, at least this author – than finding a glaring spelling /grammar mistake and with the best will and proof reading in the world, they can still occur. The only thing worse would be to discover the novel you thought was done, is in fact only only half done. Agh! A spelling or typo can be corrected in the next print run (and the blame can be passed to the publisher) but a story that is published unfinished … that is the chance to tell that story as it should be told, lost forever – no publisher is going to publish it again. It hasn’t happened to me yet but I have nightmares about it – yikes!
      Thanks for comment 🙂

  3. Wendy Clarke says:

    I usually have at least four errors in each story that I have read through many times and deemed perfect. Luckily my husband, and trusted proofreader, finds them and weeds them out. I love the colour of your room, by the way, Marianne.

    • A fresh, trustworthy pair of eyes when editing is vital, isn’t it? And glad you like the colour. I had some lilac and white from before so just used that and was worried it would look a bit dated but it seems to work … only got the floor to lay now – that could take a while ;o)

  4. Diane says:

    As a life-long avid reader, I idolized authors who could spin words into tales that grabbed and held you (and quickly returned books with disjointed gaps and cracks that prevented the words from grabbing hold). Now that I’ve taken that first scary step into the world of writing, I’m fascinated, awed (and overwhelmed – smile) by all that is involved with the art of writing. To my novice thinking, editing is a huge part of the art, but one that is easy to over-look. The joy you feel as words spill out on paper and become…gasp…a story (smile), can quickly turn into overwhelm when you re-read your masterpiece and see all the glaring gaps and cracks that have to be fixed. It can be tempting to throw a can of paint at it and try to “fool” the reader rather than go through the time-consuming (and painful) process of editing. In this age of self-publishing, there are many examples of thrown paint. The writer I want to become is not a paint-thrower, so I know I will need to develop the skill and discipline to edit, edit, edit…so hopefully one day, I will have a polished piece that will truly grab hold of a reader. Thank you Marianne, for the great post (one that I’ll be sharing in my writing class – smile)

    • Hi Diane, thanks so much for your comment. Writing is very scary and well done for taking the first step 🙂 Yes, I think it is easy to overlook the editing stage of writing because we don’t think of editing as being “creative” but we should. I always find the “getting into” the editing stage a struggle but once I am “in”, I love it! You are right not want to be a paint-thrower, anyone can do that, it requires little skill. But a true writer will take the time to create something original and fresh, something that will grab the reader’s attention, no matter how long that takes. Thanks again – oh yes, I love the Leonard Cohen quote on your site “There is a crack in everything that is how the light gets in.” It’s perfect. You could say the cracks in our writing help us to better see the bits we need to work on to make the light shine through 🙂

  5. Cathy Harris says:

    So glad I popped in today and saw this blog. I was having a creative meltdown and immediately came here for some clarity. After years of playing around with a story (but never really feeling I had it figured out), and taking all your classes to learn how to write it, I gave myself a target of starting to rewrite it before my rapidly approaching 40th birthday…. I finally thought I had cracked the story and plot, only to find out when I sat down to write it I had forgot just about everything I learned on the courses lol. So I am holding on to the one thing I didn’t forget – just write it, regardless of primitive it is and deal with the rest later…. as you can only edit something that you actually write in the first place…..

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