Justine: Two Steps Forward, Twenty-three Steps Back

margie lawson, EDITS, justine covington, eight ladies writing, writing

A pretty heaving editing job on one of my scenes.

Take a look at that image to the left. Go ahead…click on it. Make it BIG. I’ll wait.

Done looking? Tell me, does it look familiar? Well, not familiar in that you wrote it or anything, but familiar with all the scratch-ups, rewrites, highlights, arrows, lines, numbers, and copy editing symbols? I’m going to assume, even if you don’t edit on paper like I do, that your answer is “Yes.”

I have written and edited this scene, in which Susannah’s uncle finds out Napoleon has left France ahead of “schedule,” about twenty times. All of the editing I’ve been doing lately is starting to make me feel that for every two steps I take forward (I finish a new scene, I make changes on another), I get pushed back some twenty-odd steps by the dreaded Inner Editor in me, because she Just. Won’t. Stop.

I was talking with someone the other day (my muddled mind can’t remember whom, but they were asking polite questions about my book and my progress) and it struck me that I need to be done with this book. Not that I am done, because I’m not. I have gaping holes everywhere. But I need to be done. There’s a big difference. Whoever said that writers are never finished with a book, but rather they just have to stop working on it was right. I need to write, edit, and move on. Pronto.

To be fair (to myself), that’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve finished another substantial edit/rewrite of the first two scenes and have sent them to beta readers (thank you! You know who you are!). I just finished cleaning up the scene in the photo above (#3), and am about to make my first round of edits to scene #4 (which used to be scene #1, where Susannah learns what her uncle has in store for her…I’ve completely rewritten it). Then those, too, will hit my beta readers.

I’m also limiting myself to three passes when I write a new scene:

  1. Write
  2. First-pass edit (I’m pretty skimpy on details when I write a first draft…this is where I flesh things out some more)
  3. EDITS system edit (that’s the highlighting that I talked about here)

If it’s a scene I wrote awhile back (but is still in first draft stage), I’m limiting myself to steps #2 and #3.

After that, I have to just let it go. Let it go, get the whole thing done, then print the sucker out and give it another read-through (after a brief time away, of course). If I don’t do that, I’ll find myself in a perpetual whirling vortex of editing. How many times can I go through each word, each phrase, trying to wring the most emotion and feeling from them? At some point, I’m going to get negative returns, and the changes I make will hurt more than help (that’s part of the 23 steps backwards I’m trying to avoid).

So…I will move forward. I will make progress. And I will be done with this Damn Book. Pronto.

Do you have self-imposed limitations when you edit?

12 thoughts on “Justine: Two Steps Forward, Twenty-three Steps Back

  1. I need to keep going if I want to see how I’m going to end, so my pattern is on day 1, I write something. On day 2, I reread that and edit it (or delete it, or whatever), and when I’m reasonably happy with it, I write something new. And on day 3, I reread only what I wrote new on day 2 (moving on from day 1 output), and so on. Then when I get to the end, I can see better what I’ve got. If I don’t reread and edit (one time) as I go, I can find that I’ve taken really huge divergences that waste a lot of time and energy and are totally demoralizing. If every day, I think, “this sucks,” then I know that I have a problem a lot sooner than if I just whale away at it to the end.

    Preparing to finish is great, Justine. Reworking something to make it better is good and necessary, but a person can rework something until the juice is gone, too. Carry on!

    • Most of the stuff that I’ve been touching 20 times is stuff I sent in for a few contests (the first four scenes or so). The scenes I’ve been working on since then, I’ve touched a lot less, and this new, self-imposed editing limitation is designed to keep me moving forward. As for the first four scenes, they’ve been rewritten and rearranged, requiring a bit more attention (but not too much!).

      Lordy, I hope this works!

  2. I hear you, Justine! I need to finish, ASAP. Like you, I have spent a lot of time re-working the early scenes, mostly for contests, and I’ve decided that I’m not going to touch the first act again until I get to the end of the re-write. I got some great feedback on Act I in San Antonio and I know it still needs re-shaping, but it will have to wait. I just wish I could write faster. I’ve tried the 2k to 10k tricks and I think it’s helping me to write better, but I’m still s-l-o-w.

    Good luck with your new method, and really looking forward to the day (soon!!) when we can declare these puppies finished 🙂

    • I really didn’t want to touch the beginning of the book, but I had to, because what follows immediately after Nate and Susannah’s first meeting is the part that I’ve ripped out and must rewrite. I kinda need to know how the beginning is playing out (now that I’ve changed it) so that sagging beginning I’ve mentioned in previous posts isn’t quite so…well…saggy.

      In any case, I’m pushing through these first few scenes quickly. I will not tinker. And yes, I think I will get drunk the day I finish this damn thing!

    • We’re certainly all different, but it’s great that you’ve figured out what works for you. I think that was/is part of my problem — I hadn’t figured out what worked. I’m still not sure this will work, but I’m giving it a solid try.

  3. I am in the same vortex of the never-ending story edits. I have never taken a manuscript apart and put it back together so many times, and yet I still hate it most days (and then there are the precious few days that I love it, and those keep me coming back for more pain and suffering). In my case, YMMV, not having the book written before the McD courses meant I was writing the book while we were taking apart and analyzing our stories. I think that really messed with its chi.

    • I think I had the exact same problem…I was writing the book (and re-writing and re-writing) all through the McDaniel program. I think one of our comments in the feedback about the program was that students should have a finished first draft before starting.

      The only thing that is the same between the book idea/plot summary I had at the beginning of the McD program and how it is currently is Susannah’s name. Even Nate wasn’t Nate — he was originally Thomas. 🙂

      For the most part, I like my story very much. There are some trouble spots (which I’m about to work on in the next week or so) that I’m not looking forward to, but mostly because I’m trying to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B in a realistic and believable way.

      I hope you get your chi back!

      • Nope. Finished first draft didn’t really help. What I needed was about a month to NaNo a second draft, I think, between the second and third classes. A chance to apply what we’d learned. (-: And then I’d probably wanted another month between third and fourth, and between fourth and fifth. Which would have made for a 15 month year, I think.

        I want to BE done very badly, too. I hate it when unfinished projects are hanging around in the back of the closet. I can’t throw it out, but I’m too busy dithering about what to do with it to actually finish it . . . . I had some sort of yarn embroidery set like that when I was 10. I think I finally finished it when I was 12 or 13 — the maturity helped quite a bit, and it was such a relief to have it done and framed, mistakes and all.

  4. I love your colour-coded editing, even if I could never hope to emulate it! I been wondering (actually, hoping) recently – as I’m also stuck in the endless editing/rewriting cycle – if some of the problems are related to the fact that we are all still working on stories that we started when we knew so much less (even me, without McD). That means that – although I know that we have all thrown lots out – we are working with basic clay that is less good than it would be if we were starting from scratch now. And that makes progress much slower, partly because it is hard to ditch stuff that seemed okay even six months ago (so, sometimes I find myself writing around bits that are quite good, when really it would be quicker and more efficacious to just rewrite from scratch).

    That doesn’t mean that I’m advocating running off to the pastures new of a fresh story (oh, the bliss when that day comes) because I think this is an important part of our learning process (and we WILL be better writers for it) but because we should recognise that there are reasons it is hard at the moment – it’s not because we’re crap writers but because we’re getting better all the time! Here ends my inspirational talk for the day.

    • Here, here! I loved that! Your experience mirrors mine perfectly. It certainly made me feel better about me and my writing experiences.

      I think you’re totally right that we write around bits we love when we should just throw it out. I definitely do that. I also think your clay analogy is spot-on. Basically, our clay is drying out because we’ve been playing with it too long and we’d make a much better bowl, pot, whatever if we’d just get a new lump and start over. That’s just fantastic. I’m putting that one on the wall. “When the clay that is your words starts to dry up, you’re better off with new lump of clay rather than rewetting the old one.” I’m sure someone else could improve on that.

      Okay, that was a very rambling response, but I’m on a bit of a sugar high right now.

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