Not all the steps of writing are creative. Developing the plot and characters, writing the first draft — that’s creativity at its purest. We make something from nothing. Awe-inspiring. In fact, humans can’t not make a story. We shape our lives in the retelling, making sense out of the events and emotions.
But editing? That’s an analytical function. And there are several layers of editing between the creativity of the first draft and the final one. Too often my beginning writers neglected this stage. Others focused on it too much, reluctant to move on until that first paragraph — first sentence was just right. And then they froze.
For me , and for most writers I know, there’s a sequence that works best: create, then pause, then analyze. In any given writing session, I have never been able to edit and then go on to write. Write first, then switch to analyzing.
I don’t try to edit for perfection the first time through. Like sanding a table, you need to start with a rough grit sandpaper and progressively move to a finer grade. No use fixing commas when you may delete that whole scene.
Structure and fact checking comes first. Does this scene belong here or there? Or maybe it should be cut? How did I spell Rodriguez’s name? How old was Janet during Desert Storm? Does the pacing work? Are the chapter breaks in the right place? And on and on. Some of that I may do during the first draft stage — but only after I’ve finished a scene. And only after I’m done creating for the day.
Now it’s time to focus on the writing itself. Did I say it well? Can it be punchier? Clearer? Richer?
I’m itchy about this right now in In God’s Name. I just finished three crucial chapters, two of which I found very difficult to write. One will need to be much more dramatic. The other one switches point of view repeatedly — not good especially in a flashback — and the language felt really clunky. I’m resisting going back and revising them. Better to move ahead and fix that later. Who knows what may come up in future chapters that will affect these chapters?
Writing can be like making pie dough. Over mixing may make it tough and flat. Best to use a light hand.
Now it’s time for the commas! This is the copy editing stage. Going over each sentence, each word, and yes those pesky commas.
Then it’s time to hand it off to someone else for a copy edit. Changes are made, and then everything is proofed. And there will still be mistakes. I always roll my eyes when people sneer about mistakes in a piece of work. Marks them as an amateur. Independently published, traditional publishing house — doesn’t matter. Things slip through. Still, being a professional, says you strive for the cleanest copy you can.
So back to my novel. Back to my creative draft. Telling a story.