Two weeks ago I challenged my blog readers to write a character description; one of the submissions came from the talented and lovely sixteen-year-old Molly Ronan, who kindly agreed to let me feature her piece in my latest Writing Workshop post. Tomorrow I'll pull the curtain back on the line-editing process, but before we dig into the nitty-gritty, let's talk generally about the importance of editing.
Look, editing is necessary, and it pays to get good at it. A piece of writing that is sloppy, disconnected, and boring in first draft can, through the magic of editing, become tight, fast-paced, and completely cohesive (trust me--I've been an editor for years and have seen it happen more than once). And for aspiring writers, learning how to edit yourself--to get rid of all of the useless connector words, unnecessary adjectives, and overly complex phrasing--can mean the difference between getting snapped up by an agent/editor and getting heaped in to the REJECT pile.
What I'm trying to say is: editing your work isn't like forgetting to ice the cake. It's like forgetting to put the d&&n thing in the oven and bake it; all you're left with is a bunch of soggy and formless ingredients. Editing is what gives books shape and structure, what ensures that people are going to want to bite.
One more metaphor before we continue. In first draft, you as the writer are exploring and discovering the fictional landscape yourself; in other words, you don't really know your way around yet. It's like if you were driving around a foreign city, trying to find a Dunkin Donuts. You make a left, and then a left, and then a few rights, and eventually you come to a big ol' D & D, just before your caffeine-fiending had you so desperate you were ready to kill someone. And then, lo and behold, you realize that if you'd just taken Congress Street the whole way, you would have had a straight shot to your coffee fix.
The next time you give someone directions to the D & D, then, will you direct them the convoluted way, sending them around the myriad twists and turns you originally took? Or will you just give them the clearest, simplest route? My bet is the latter, unless you want some scalding java in the face.
Writing is the same way. Just because initially it takes you a long time to get from Point A to Point B doesn't mean--in fact, it shouldn't mean--your readers will have to walk the winding path with you.
Tomorrow we'll move on to specifics; I'll work with Molly's paragraphs from an editor's perspective, showing you how some careful trimming can make a solid (albeit long-winded) introduction shorter, tighter, and completely compelling.