Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The edit will set you free...

[Photo: Paris? Italy? ...where I wish I was sitting and editing my WIP]

The edit will set you free... but first, it hurts.

I'm editing. I mean really pulling my words apart. Necessary right? But painful.

If you don't already have a copy of The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, I recommend it. ABC's of writing, but you know what happens when you build on wet concrete, right? Foundational cracks will be the least of your problems. Try shaky walls on the fifty-seventh floor of your writing castle.

Interesting little exercise... if you dare.
Take out all the nouns and verbs on the first page of your WIP. List them all separately. Now write a less common replacement beside each word. Insert fresh nouns and verbs. Reread.

I thought common place and cliche were whole cities away from my work, and then I looked honestly at my writing and it would appear that common crept into the basement with handfuls of words.

Try the same exercise with adverbs and adjectives. Take them all out. Read your work without them. Still conveying major thoughts and themes? Yeah, thought so...
Re tile that basement, Tab.
It's amazing how picky you get about choosing robust nouns and verbs when you decide not to prop them up with adjectives and adverbs. Not saying all adverbs or adjectives should go, but the ones that stay need to plead their case before judge and jury.

List all the adverbs and adjectives that you think need to stay. Then find stronger ones.
Rewrite. Reread.
Yeah... mine too.

Now, if I could just nail that damn first paragraph...

A massive thanks to Suzanne for her strength and honesty. We might make a writer out of me yet:)

What about you? What writing exercise has added to your WIP or possibly made you rethink the entire building process. Got any foundational cracks to share? Please? I cannot be the only one... right? right?.... please oh please...


  1. Make a list of items...say, outdoor tools: rake, lawnmower, shovel, trowel.

    Mix them with verbs from a different topic, say, cooking: wisk, blend, mix, sift, fold.

    Use different combinations from both lists to come up with different, more powerful language. So that instead of raking the leaves, perhaps "She sifted the leaves onto the tarp..."

    I think this came from either Natalie Goldberg WRITING DOWN THE BONES or Barbara DeMarco-Barret PEN ON FIRE. I find it a great help.

  2. I did that renaming of the nouns and verbs. You are right. It helped a lot. Good luck with your rewrites. I'm doing the same thing right now.

  3. Oh wow. That is a scary exercise. I'll have to try it as soon as I'm done trying to figure out this backstory debacle!

  4. I'm stealing all these secrets! What a wealth of knowledge.

    Editing sounds brutal if you go at it alone, the tools you've listed breathe a sigh of relief from my direction.

    Thanks Tabitha!

  5. Great tips. I'm going to copy and paste them right now. Thanks. And good luck. I can't tell you how many times I revised my memoir before publishing.

  6. This sounds like a great strategy! I am not very good at editing. I just read over my manuscript a hundred times and change things that bother me. But yes, I have MANY, MANY things that need to be changed.

  7. You are not alone! I'm still revising, working on structural issues, and trying to get that first paragraph/page right. I'm going to try this tip to remove/replace verbs, adverbs, adjectives. Sounds like it will be super helpful, but, whew, daunting.

  8. After last night, a fresh set of eyes, really made mine open to my work. I'm talking about that in my post on Writers' Rest tomorrow. Amazing what a stranger is willing to divulge about your work!! We writers need more strangers in this world!!!

  9. Oh, that's a good exercise. I'm definitely going to try that with my new manuscript when i finally get to start writing it.

  10. sheesh! I know my writing is common... LOL

  11. Your post is the reason why I could never be an author. I suck at editing. Lol.

  12. This is great...the idea I've been messing with lately is, if we use words to flouncy then the language or story becomes about the voice, which can be annoying.

    There needs to be a balance. Moments of ah mixed with getting the story from a to b? Yes? I don't know...I'm writing chic-lit something I never thought I'd write but I'm drawn to it and love it...I can't get all flouncy...the genre calls for easy reading, not bad writing, but easy reading...

  13. You put me to shame, you really do. *sigh* My Babies are conceived in about five to ten minutes, straight from pen to paper. I hardly ever edit. Have you not noticed? Ha! I admire your discipline;muchly.

  14. I'm probably weird, but I enjoy editing a lot more than writing the initial draft. With the first draft, I'm facing the weight of the infinite. I can write anything. With edits, I'm making what I wrote better. A clearer target.

  15. Thanks so much for this tip! I will have to try it out with a few pieces of writing and see what happens... (sort of afraid to do it!) Thanks for the recommendation on that book as well, I'll have to check it out.

  16. Might make a writer out of you????????????????

    You are magnificent. I firmly believe that you share my same horror of the first five pages, chapters, whatever. Takes us a while to get our voice on is all. Glad you liked it. I thought you might. Did wonders for me. :)

  17. Ooooh. I like this exercise. I'll be trying this. I'm starring this for later. Thanks.

  18. Another good exercise is to take out the ings, we use too many. Now, I have a headache. All those nouns and verbs and adjectives and adverbs are dancing around in my pea brain.

  19. Great advice. I'm in the same boat right now. My plot is quite wobbly, so my boat needs a major overhaul... Noah Lukeman's books are great!

  20. I started that exercise once before. I don't remember where I read it, but it sounded like a good way of editing. After I got started I realized English 101 was too many years ago so I had to go online and print out lists of nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives.

    I gave up after only a few paragraphs. I decided if an editor ever looks at my novel that's something they get paid to look for.

    But editing is a bigger job that just pulling out all the common language. Two books that helped me are BETWEEN THE LINES by Jessica Page Morrell and HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL by James N. Frey. I can't say I follow every tip, but it has helped. And I took an on-line writers course and got a whole lot of good info there too.

    My worst writing error is telling not showing. I'm currently going through the first novel looking for those scenes. I got time; it could take forever to obtain an agent.

    By then, maybe I'll have a first paragraph I'm completely satisfied with:)

    You'll do fine with the editing Tabitha. Don't pick it apart too much. I've read little bits of your writing and really enjoyed it. Speaking of: I scrolled down and read your HERE I AM poem. I don't often enjoy poetry, but that was well done.