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Aug 152012

Edit: v To revise or correct, as a manuscript

Dreadit: v To actively avoid editing a particular manuscript (I’ve been Dreaditing “Cookies For All Occasions” for the past week).


My dear friend Devin Harnois , coined this term to describe the process of getting ready to edit something. It’s that time when you know you have to get down to the business of editing something so that it is ready to face the world, but you just don’t want to spoil the perfection you imagine that it is by actually looking at it.

This is a hard one. Writers, out of necessity, tend to be very adept at lying to themselves when they need to. For example: you need to believe that the words you are writing right now are beautiful prose that are going to communicate your intention perfectly to each and every reader out there. You have to believe that, at the moment, in order to keep writing instead of getting bogged down in a never ending loop of perfecting the first sentence and therefore never write the second one. It’s a necessary fiction. And one that must be exposed before editing – real editing – gets started.

We’ll take a look at one of my examples (the one that’s happening right now): “Cookies For All Occasions” is a short story I wrote as part of NaNoWriMo 2010. It has finally made it to the top of my “edit this” pile. I’ve been imagining “Cookies For All Occasions” for a lot longer than that, so my expectations were high. So, when it came time to do the editing, I … did laundry, washed the dishes, deep cleaned the litter boxes, took on additional beta projects, and even just relaxed the night away in front of my games computer. This went on for a week, maybe more – I wasn’t counting, before I realized I was either going to have to open the document or face my writing buddies in failure. I opened the document and started reading. Oh man was it awful. Every other sentence was passive, convoluted or both. The plot and characterization were OK, but I’d left so much out of the world building I was bordering on “White Room Syndrome” (I’ll go in depth on Friday). I only made it a quarter of the way through that read-through before it was clear what method of editing I would need to use.

I considered walking away again, but I was at writing group and didn’t have any other fall back projects that I wanted to work on – besides, my writing buddies were right there. I could have continued slogging through the whole draft making notes, that I knew weren’t going to be as useful as they should be. So I opened a side by side document and started editing (with so much wrong at the sentence level – I thought it would be easier to just re-write the new, clean sentences rather than try to cut up, rearrange and splice the old sentences back together in the original document). In that process something magical happened.

All that time I’d spent imagining my story as the pinnacle of perfection payed off. As I came to each problem, I had a solution. Especially in the places where I needed more world building. All the beautiful aspects to the background of my character, her grandmother, the cookies – it was all there, just ready for me to put it down. I was ready with active verbs when in the original they were passive. Everything is more vivid. I went back over what I had written new the night before, and it’s so much better than the first draft. It’s so much closer to that perfect story I had been thinking about. It’s still not quite there, and it will probably need a couple more passes once I’m done with this one.

Dreaditing is a real part of the process, every bit as much as pre-writing. Sure you can do without it, but then you have to spend the time in front of the computer thinking about it – and your household chores don’t get done. The other fun part about it, is by the time you get over the dreading part, the actual editing doesn’t feel so bad. In this case, I’m having fun.

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