Strike Three: or The Necessity of Vigorous Editing

I was at a reading recently, a mix of fiction, nonfiction, and poets reading from their works, mostly self-published or published by very small local initiatives. Poets have it easy to do a ten-minute reading — we can fit in a good handful of poems, usually. But longer-format writers have to figure out what ten-minute extract they can feature that doesn’t need enormous backstory set-up, but that creates some narrative movement.

By and large these readers were not very successful at that, and that set their work at a disadvantage from the get-go.

I wonder if longer-format writers need to actually design a few extracts that meet ten-minute or twenty-minute limits so they’re ready for such opportunities. That probably means taking a longer scene and editing it down or moshing together a couple of scenes and deleting out some interstitial matter. This strikes me as a useful editing technique as well.

Which brings me to my next point.

Self-published or sort-of-almost-self-published (“vanity” presses, I hate to call them) authors seem often to have done their work a disservice, as the editing that goes on, if it goes on, is not rigorous enough to create good work. That’s just all there is to it.

It is hard to edit one’s own work.

But it is necessary to grow the tough skin and fierce attention to do so, or to allow someone else to wade in and do it along with you. It is the only way to create good work.

In the work of one reader that night, every single noun had an adjective, and not a single verb was done without some -ly defining it. This made for limp nouns, flaccid verbs, and slow, tedious listening. It was all I could do not to leap forward wielding my red pen at the offending volume. (Yes, of course I had a red pen on me. What? You want me to wander naked into the world without my Edit Girl costume hidden under my clothes?)

Edit edit edit. Scrutinize everything.

“But do you know how arduous that is?” you cry. Yes. Yes, I do.

Put it away for a while and let time push you back from it.

Do a quick overview, taking notes on flow and movement. Then wade in a bit at a time. Take it scene by scene. Ask of everything: Are you necessary?

Open a new document and throw in there chunks you’ve taken out, or chunks you’re not sure about. That way you can move things back if necessary.

It’s rarely necessary.


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