Every Wednesday I’ll be sharing some hints and tips about how to improve your writing. These are basic things I have learned over the years, from writers websites, published authors and constructive feedback from friends, family and online pals.
There is an argument that fiction writing cannot be taught because it comes from talent alone, it is in your nature to be creative. Whilst there is some truth in that, even the most creative person needs to learn how to use their ability and make the best of their craft.
This week: Editing as you NaNo!
This weeks topic is short and sweet because I’m itching to get back into my NaNo Novel. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or not, these principles apply to any fiction writing. I’m talking about editing, correcting, tweaking, enhancing, rewriting and so on. Do you make changes as you go or leave them for later? If you spot a flaw what do you do?
To Edit or not.
There are some who prefer, and recommend, that you go through the physical act of writing without stopping. If writing were a game of Snakes & Ladders you would club the snakes over the head and scramble up those ladders as fast as your words can carry you. The idea is to get it all down while it’s fresh in your mind, let your noggin have control of your fingers so they can crank out those wonderful words.
Don’t stop for anything. If you stop to make a note your train of thought might be derailed before it reaches its next ladder. Sure, you might slow down to adjust spelling or grammar but it’s not technically important at those early stages. After all this is only the first draft so it’s bound to be a little quirky. Keep that engine chugging along and be ready to whack those snakes. .
On the other hand some say you can edit on the go. You can scurry up the ladders just as quickly as sliding down the snakes. In fact it’s the snakes that can make writing so much fun because they say: “Slide on down and look at what you’ve missed.”
I subscribe to this train of thought. Why? Because as you write your brain steps up a gear from normal thinking mode. You’re thinking about so many things but if you’re like me you concentrate on 3 different issues, the Past, Present and Future. It’s these that prompt some writers to worry and others to shine. I see no reason why you can’t edit as you write. This is how I view one small aspect of writing.
The Writers’ Present.
Let’s say you’ve been writing for an hour and have 1,000 words on the page. You’re working on a scene or piece of dialogue, you’re in the Zone, zipping along quite nicely and enjoying the story unfold as it should. Maybe not as you envisaged but hey, characters are tricksy at the best of times!
Suddenly you make a reference to something that either has an impact on an upcoming scene or should have been mentioned earlier in order for the current/future section(s) to make more sense or enhance the reading experience.
Do you ignore the desire to stick in a bit of text further back?
Do you make a note and move on?
Do you consider a lengthy rewrite?
Or do you slope of to find the coffee and ask yourself why you started this insane writing project in the first place, and hey, I wonder what’s on TV?
Hey! Back to the future – I mean present.
The Writers’ Past.
Time travel possibly isn’t as fascinating to writers as it is to “normal” people because a writer can instantly visit any moment in their past. Okay, so Jules Verne obviously had fun with time travel, and maybe the dudes who wrote Back to the Future did too. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale if you were interested.
Personally if I come across a problem in the present that would be enhanced by details in the past, I scroll up and change it. This is okay if it’s a few lines or a rapid correction. I tend not to rewrite vast chunks of text, but subtle changes are good. They allow you to shift back to the present and move forward without that niggling sense that something isn’t quite right.
Yesterday evening I cranked out 3,140 words for my NaNo Novel. After a couple of pages I wrote a few lines about my main characters attitude toward bullies and standing his ground to fight instead of running away. I liked that but I wasn’t happy with how my character hadn’t shown any inclination of his disgust for bullies. I could have just made a note and continued writing, but that didn’t feel right. So I took a few minutes to visit my past, added a couple of extra lines then moved on.
The Writers’ Future.
Thinking of the future is equally as important as living in the moment and remembering the past. As you work in the moment your brain is plotting the next set of events, maybe only a scene ahead, maybe entire chapters. It’s easy to let things slip that will matter in the future when concentrating on the present. This is where research and planning can play a key part in your writing. You can plan to include any number of details as you write, thereby reducing the amount of time you spend in the past.
However, while I am a fan of planning, I like to keep things loose in terms of mapping out what lies ahead. I research and make notes but too much and it ruins my enjoyment of the present because I know what’s going to happen in the future. I prefer to have a vague idea with a few key turning points, and let the characters do their stuff.
This approach works well for me but then it depends what you, the writer, are writing about and your own styles and preferences. You may need to have very specific facts at hand, so it’s worth knowing where you’re going in some respects.
Fast and Furious.
Come on Dave, NaNo is all about writing fast and furious, should I really spend my time editing?
Well yes and no. NaNoWriMo is all about churning out that novel in 30 days. But after it’s done, then what? If your story is so full of plot holes and gaping flaws you may not have the energy to trawl through it and make zillions of changes. And all that time will feel like a…well, waste of time. Naturally this could be a first draft so you shouldn’t expect pure gold at the end, and you may end up going through several re-writes.
But this does depend on what you want to do with your novel once the crazy month is over.
Do you want to publish your story?
Or maybe just share it with friends?
Perhaps you’re just writing because it’s fun, remembering of course that writing is for your enjoyment first and foremost.
Either way it is possible to edit on the fly. I firmly believe that simple quick editing on the go is possible, and to some extent necessary. Writers face many challenges so it’s worth while making sure you’re comfortable with travelling into the past so you can feel more comfortable moving into the future.
That’s all folks!
Short and sweet like I said. I’m off to get my daily dose of writing yumminess!
Do you have any thoughts on how you edit?
If you have any writing tips and advice and feel like sharing, pop me an email or rant in the box below!
A quick word about stories and fictional adventures, a moment of your time I beg. November is National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo – and I have joined a special support group set up by Indigo Spider to help us on our journey through the writing frenzy.
If you fancy joining us and penning that novel you’ve been dying to get out, find us on Twitter at #NaNoTeamIndy or via NaNoWriMo – search for Writing Buddies Dave Farmer or Indigo Spider. If you want to join the team you can get a badge for your blog at Indigo Spider.
- NaNoWriMo Kicks Off Today, Are You Inspired? (inquisitr.com)
- How To Win National Novel Writing Month Using Google Docs (readwriteweb.com)
- Just another NaNoWriMo blog post… (leannerichards.wordpress.com)
- The NaNoWriMo Challenge: A Novel in a Month (pamil-visions.net)