When you sit down to write that long-awaited novel, slice of non-fiction, memoir or short-story, do you feel you have to describe everything? Do you convey to the reader every detail of that small blade of grass or her hair was cropped just so? This tactic is fine if these are your methods but if you find yourself getting hung up on minor details, stop. Actually, because that is likely just what you are doing now-stopping-wasting precious word count time fretting over details- strive to continue on, push through those halts and worry about the small items later.
I will often skip streets, locations, even names of people. If the location is integral to the story, do the research before you write. Scrivener has some great tools for capturing all this in order to aid you in the writing process. If your story is based on people you already have an outline of; what you want them to do, what you want them to say, then minor details can be completed during the editing process.
What??? No, that’s not what editing is for!
I know this all sounds a tad unconventional, but there is more than one way to accomplish this task. You can flesh a story out later, using the basic skeleton already created as a guide.
I love editing and I feel accomplished when I do this particular deed. For some writers, this is not the case. Editing is an ugly word full of sorrow. I feel accomplished because what I’ve written is already complete. You can stammer all you want and get stuck but you can’t edit words that aren’t there, so get going. Don’t get caught up sweating the small stuff.
When I have completed my first draft, the skeleton is there, bones jutting out and all. Ugly stabs are there and I love them just the same. Sometimes I cut out those parts like a careful surgeon, which is common in most writing books kill your babies and all that, which is usually what they say. But, if I can offer an alternative method, your babies won’t be there in the first place.
When I write my first draft, I don’t go overboard with description unless it is meaningful, an integral part already formed in my mind. Going crazy over parts I can beef up during my first fun round of editing is just not productive. I can make sturdy these sections later as I add, adjust and delete how I see fit during that first serious read through. I love this part of writing and, as I state below, I usually allow for some time between that first draft and that first edit.
I do three rounds of editing, sometimes four and I have the same number of folders for whatever I’m working on. I call them levels. I am working on a short-story compilation, Worked Stiff: Short Stories to Tell Your Boss, a sequel to the poetry and prose book. So, I move the short-story documents to each folder as they all complete their levels. This is not meant to complicate, instead it is a way to organize material as well as accomplishment. Have a short-story or makings of a non-fiction masterpiece? Make three folders on your computer and guide that bad boy through the folders. Here are my levels described in more detail:
Level I: I have either typed this ugly beast into Scrivener from my scratched notes, yellow legal pad with sharpie from the road, wine-driven Dragon sessions or just plain typing by dawn’s early light. It is there, I can see it, it is done in a sense and it needs work. I can add others to that same folder, even put it off for a week or two, but I will have to take care of it at some point. It is a child that I created and it is going to need some love in order to flourish. If you are strict and know you need rules, I suggest you set a schedule for dealing with these level I stories/chapters/sections after you ring that first bell.
If you are at all like me, you may find some solace in discovering these little wayward gems a month out, giving them the fresh set of eyes they deserve. Here you can add the meat to your potatoes, or the potatoes to your meat, whatever descriptive gestures you find missing in action. You can even add more dialogue or make existing dialogue better. Whatever you do, DO NOT become complacent and let it sit too long or you will have a daunting number of stories in Level I.
Level II: I read this baby out loud, usually I corner an unsuspecting victim or it might be just to my dog Maggie. I don’t stop either, especially for the audience. If I find a mistake or section I want to go back to, I simply type yyyyyy there for later reference and move out. The propulsion is important because here is where you get a true feel of the story to include the arch, progression and timing. Here is where you get to think about your delivery. If there is a place where I do major cutting, it is here. Some parts only make sense on paper and nowhere else. I will also take initial feedback from my victim if they are a poor human I have subjected to the reading. If it is my dog Maggie, I ask her what she thought, she gives me a look, and I proceed from there. After I am done reading, I go back, delete or add, and fix where I marked before while I was reading.
Level III: For this, I use the Hemingway App. I downloaded the small fee version because I don’t always have connectivity, but you can use it online for free whenever you want. This is painful in that it tells you readability by grade level, number of sentences that are hard to read, phrases with similar alternatives, number of adverbs, and use of passive voice. You may feel silly after this, you may even feel like a poor writer but I can assure you that it is worth every moment. As far as readability score, higher is not necessarily better. I tend to write at the 7th-11th grade level with fiction but it is not that important as it only serves as a reference. This correlates to your sentence structure, but most would suggest you be in the junior high range, accessible for all audiences.
I use this app on everything: important emails, fiction, non-fiction, blogs (even this post!) I go through each part, make changes as needed using the Hemingway App as a guide, and read it all again, nipping and tucking all the way.
Level IV: I read the work out loud again, either for an audience or alone with Maggie. I make changes as needed but easy does it. Here, I am not interested in changing the story-line or any other crazy ideas. What is done is done and I feel good about the piece.
When a work makes it into the Level IV folder, I know that it can at least stand on two legs and the work is ready for editing…
What? I thought we just did editing???
Yeah, about that…You still need to hire an editor. If you are pitching your first novel or even a seasoned author, you still need an editor. This may be the one assigned to you by the publisher, but if you are going Indy, you need to hire that subjective fresh set of eyes. I recommend finding someone you can trust, even test them if you have to. Editing ranges from .02/word or less to skies the limit. I recommend either myself 😉 or, finding someone on Fiverr with good reviews.
You can test them with a Level II story and see what he/she picks up, even compare your own Level II to theirs. For some reason altogether unknown, I prefer women editors because of their attention to detail. Also, I am not one but I find myself writing more in the female 1st person (side joke coming my way).
Choose someone who will be honest with you, someone who doesn’t have too much work, and someone who will tell you like it is. If they use track changes, as most do, great. I tend to open my original document and go right along, editing separately while reading the track changes instead of using the document returned by the editor. I do this because it is my system and I hate the way a document changes itself when using track. I’m sure someone has figured this all out, but I either don’t care to search or I don’t have the time. This is my system for dealing with a document coming back from an editor. You will have to find your own system along the way.
Remember, there is no one way to write, it’s only important that you do. If you are a new writer just getting in the game, that is great. Keep those keys clacking, keep reading- everything else will fall into place. Don’t worry yourself over minor details when you have the makings of a book. Before you send the work out, sit on it, even for a few days. Chances are you will find a new outlook, or even a new character or setting hidden within the pages.