I’m a week into the edit of AI.
I really don’t know how else to characterize the experience. It’s just odd. Odd that I have written this relatively speaking huge-asgard novel which I’m now poring through in order to catch all the mistakes and make it less, uh, sharknado-ey. Odd that I’m breaking it apart bit by bit with the literary equivalent of a rock hammer to examine all the weird crusty bits. Odd that it’s been long enough since I wrote it, and the project was big enough, and I let enough time pass that I don’t even recall writing some of what I definitely wrote. I mean, there were no pen-wielding hobos in my employ. I didn’t black out during any of the writing (that I’m aware of). It’s all me, and it sounds like me, even if I don’t recognize it as such.
I’m an English teacher by trade, though, and I can’t shake the simple and obvious comparison that editing this monster is a bit like grading a sharknado-ey sophomore English paper. Mind you, my grammar and syntax are a touch better than the average 15-year-old’s, but the process is the same. “Oh, I see what you were after here, but you worded it awkwardly and it feels like pins and needles in my skull when I read this.” Out comes the red pen. “Stop showing off your gargantuan vocabulary, you’ll alienate the reader.” Big “x” through the offending word. “What the f*$&@ were you thinking?” Entire paragraph circled and slated for demolition. Or the ever-enigmatic, simple and yet baffling “no” marked next to a passage that was deemed, for some reason or another, offensive to the eye or mind.
And let’s not sugarcoat things here, there is a LOT of red ink on this draft.
I thought it was pretty good when I wrote it. To be fair, I still think most of it is pretty good, but I see an almost endless array of ways for it to be better. Clunky language here. Overused modifiers there. Odd out-of-body-experience repetition in this particular area. Missing elements. Unnecessary descriptions. Vagueness. Overspecificity. If there’s a writing sin for it, I’ve committed that sin, probably on the Sabbath and while facing away from Mecca. I may have mixed metaphors as well. But, on the whole, I’ve not had to make any major changes to the draft or to the copy. The biggest changes I’ve made so far are the removal of one entire paragraph describing a character — I thought it was better to let the character’s actions speak for her — and the addition of a paragraph bridging the mental gap I made between a character understanding a problem and moving toward a solution. It was too easy, and upon re-reading it, I realized that in the best of cases it simply didn’t make sense, and in the worst of cases not only did it not make sense, but it was also insulting and cliche in its avoidance of sense.
But the little things are the little things. I know that the Big Problems are out there in the deep water, cruising the depths and waiting for me to circle back. These monsters I created in the draft are hungry, and their teeth are fearsome and seeking. I’m skipping around the shallows right now in a waverunner, but to deal with those leviathans, I’m going to need a bigger boat.
I’m new to this game, but it seems to me like the editing process is highly subjective and personal. Before I jumped in, I was terrified that there might be a right way and a wrong way to do it, that I’d screw up the pudding and cause the whole souffle to fall if I didn’t tackle things in the proper order and with the proper technique. But the water is always shocking when you first jump in. I’m starting to feel comfortable, to establish a routine, and to feel as if I have a decent gameplan in mind for slaying this dragon.
For reference (yours if you’re thinking about embarking on a journey like mine, mine if it changes later and I disavow everything I’ve written to date), here’s how I’m tackling it.
- I read my draft in MS Word with Track Changes enabled.
- I keep a notepad open in front of me while I read.
- I parse about five pages — or 3000 words — per day.
- Major plot points and character developments get noted in the notepad.
- Problems with the copy are either addressed immediately (I clean up vagueness or messy language) or highlighted for the second pass.
- On the opposite-facing page of the notepad, I keep a running to-do list of things I need to fix when I come back for the second pass. (These tend to be the more involved things that I can’t do in just a few minutes, like giving a better description of a character, or figuring out where and when I need to introduce an element that needs to be present for later in the story.)
It’s tedious, no doubt, and part of me wants to follow some advice I’ve seen elsewhere, which is to just hunker down and read through the whole thing in one go: a couple of days or so, and leave all the fixing for Future Mes to figure out. But I don’t know if that’s how I work, for better or for worse. When I clean house (and here my wife is laughing her butt off), I try to clean everything all at once. I’ll be polishing a countertop in the kitchen, then see a doodad that belongs in the living room. I stop polishing to return the doodad and I see that the doodads are out of alignment. So I take a moment to straighten them out, and I discover a missing piece to a set of decorative doohickeys in our bedroom. Naturally, I stop the alignment of the doodads to return the doohickey, and then I see that the trashcans upstairs need emptying, and soon an hour has passed and my wife is asking me why the hell it’s taking me so long to clean the countertops in the kitchen.
I can’t say it’s the most efficient way to process this first draft, but I think it’s working so far. At the very least I feel productive, and since this is all about me, I’m going to take that and be joyful for now.
I’ll keep you posted when it’s time to tangle with the sharks.