1. Kekec
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    Kekec Member

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    An Odious Perfectionist Peeve

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Kekec, Jun 3, 2014.

    As I've been browsing this forum, I've found many members dreading the aftermath of the first draft: editing. The problem I'm having is that I constantly keep editing. I will write a couple of sentences or paragraphs, then stop writing, re-read and fix mistakes. The next time I sit to continue that same piece, I'll read it again, fix missed mistakes, and repeat the process. It's been very off-putting for me; and, needless to say, I think this modus operandi has been the main culprit for the lack of a finished work.

    I'd like to know if there are any poor souls with the proclivity for such intense meticulousness.
     
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  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Editing a full draft is probably one of the hardest things a new writer has to do. Especially if it's novel-length, the task can be rather daunting.

    It's the odd point where you stop using your imagination and start critically thinking about your knowledge of wordsmithing and try to apply it well and consistently to make a quality work. Most new writers probably have the least experience in this than any other part of the writing process.

    I keep mental notes as I write, as I notice in a scene that I forgot to mention something or I accidently forgot who the PoV is or even just realize it needs details. I don't go back to edit it right away as I believe hammering out the rough draft is more important because that's the part would make me give up due to how long it can take to write a piece. Editing takes long too but I keep at it until it's done.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you absolutely positively cannot bear to just let the whole draft grow before editing, you could make a set of rules that you are not allowed to touch the words from the last writing session until you have written X number of new words this session. Only when those words are down are you allowed to edit the last batch.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    There are two schools of thought when it comes to editing - wait till the end before you start, or edit as you go. But what you describe is something different, and it stems from an insecurity about your writing, a fear that it has to be perfect. It's a trap, because there are only so many revisions you can make to a sentence before you either repeat yourself or smash into an unrecognizable mush. You need to allow yourself to get an organized body of work on paper before you start tampering with it. Besides, quality editing is done after some time away from the project, so that you can approach it with a fresh outlook. The process you describe makes that impossible.

    Good luck with it.
     
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  5. Blueshift
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    Blueshift Member

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    After some study of English recently (my English teaching was less than adequate at school) I realised editing to a perfectionist level made things less enjoyable. As a result I'm sloppier, but I have more fun and I hope this translates to my stories.

    Likely, if anyone reads them in future, there will be those who pick up basic errors I've made. Some elite writing clubs might mock me on points I am not even familiar with. I liken it to painting, where an experienced painter could say "Ah, you used the wrong brush for this tree".

    In the long run, writing should be fun, and delving into the maths of it doesn't appeal to me any more. Which is just as well, because I found my mind rejecting/forgetting a lot of it.

    *As for editing, I do it on a chapter to chapter basis. I'll still have missed things, but that's ok.
     
  6. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    @Blueshift I hope you mean a writer will probably always find things to change so perfection is impossible or simply maddening. Proper editing isn't a stylistic choice when it comes to grammar and structure as those what makes things readable.
     
  7. Blueshift
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    Blueshift Member

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    I would somewhat disagree and say proper editing can take stylistic choices into consideration. For example some writers use 'comma splices' or disregard semi-colons, and some don't.

    In any case, I meant a bit of both. I used to scrutinise every line and throw things away for the silliest of reasons. I had the largest grammar book going. It was as though I had to get approval that every line was 'watertight'.

    Somehow tenses completely escaped me. Hmm.

    "A slavish concern for the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect." 'The Phantom Tollbooth' by Norton Juster soon became my favourite phrase once I loosened up.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I love editing. I am continually pleased with the improvements and I'm not the least bit tired of my story.
     
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  9. WeWill77
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    WeWill77 Member

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    Same. I've never been satisfied with anything I've ever written. Sometimes I am able to let it go or I do feel like there's at least something worth reading on the page, but I'm never done or truly satisfied. I throw away 99.9% of everything I write. And I only keep the .1% because it's either time to move on with life or there's a deadline.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto all of that!

    along with a modicum--or more--of talent, the other vital ingredient aspiring writers must possess, if they hope to succeed, is 'self-discipline'... since you don't seem to have any, if you can't develop/acquire the requisite amount of same, i don't see how you'll ever get to the end of your book, much less complete the editing and have a polished final draft available for submitting to agents and publishers...
     
  11. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    I believe the purpose of writing is to create a text that achieves a desired effect in the reader.

    And, like composing music, one needs to keep replaying the composition to get the "feel of it" and "absorb the melody" as it were.
    As I reread, I find words that could be switched around, sentences that could be rephrased, thoughts that aren't relevant, and so on.

    It's more natural than revisiting the chapter later and trying to get into the mood again.

    I guess people dislike editing for one of two reasons:
    1. The desire to write as fast as they can to save their ideas and make sure they won't escape.
    This can be solved by having a separate section to write outlines and drafts and so on. This leads us to:
    2. A different understanding of what writing is about. To them perhaps the language is more of a vehicle for their ideas, and they'll just do the maintenance work when they finish loading it up.
    From the point of view of people who like to edit(yay!), the vehicle is also important, and is part of the display: they'll add new gadgets to the vehicle, reorganize the seating, all the while as they hang about the decoration (the content).

    So, uhm, yeah. Why not make the car awesome from the inside and outside.

    P.S. I tried to explain it. :-D
    I really did. Sorry.
     
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  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I edit as I go and sometimes it can put a hamper on progress. When I was working on Nanowrite to keep myself focused I opened a new word doc. every day and numbered them according to the day of the month - Nov 1, Nov 2, and so on. Not only did it keep track of the story it also was a nice way of keeping track of my word count for each day. And to keep from tinkering on yesterday's work, I'd copy and past the last few sentences into the next day's doc so that I could just keep going.

    But there's no real right way to work on your story it's whatever works best. Try out some different things if you feel the way your doing it now isn't working.

    Also watch on your thought process for editing. When I edit as I go it's to fix dumb boo-boo's like there/their and to keep a certain flow in the paragraphs so it's not so hurky jerky. If you can narrow down what you want to tweak first draft it's easier than going in with the very problematic thinking of I'm editing the first draft to make it perfect - as that's kinda a lost cause. There is no perfect just better or best. i.e. A perfect sentence is not always the best one.
     
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  13. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's editing and there's editing. There's the justifiable kind, as when I'm thinking about my story away from the keyboard and I realize, "Hey, what I wrote in the last chapter doesn't really make sense in terms of what I wrote five chapters ago. I'd better change one or the other or both so they work together." That's part of the creative process. And it needs to be done, I think, because those kinds of changes can influence a novel's trajectory.

    The editing that involves moving commas and clauses around, yeah, I can have fun with that, too. But at this stage (second draft, heavily revised), that's a procrastinator's delight. Stop it! Stop it!
     
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  14. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    I'm talking about this kind of editing, and a bit deeper than that.
    To me, clause-switching and "word" rhythm is a perfectly normal part of writing.

    Subtle stuff, yet not futile.

    I just keep rereading and tweaking until I have no more ideas in my head.

    That means the deep editing of this section is over.
     
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  15. WeWill77
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    WeWill77 Member

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    I find the subtle stuff absolutely essential. As a reader, things like word and sentence rhythm, which synonyms are used, placement of colorful vs. mundane language (and usage of both), etc. can make or break a piece for me. Subtleties are (again, i.m.o.) the difference between average and exceptional writing.
     
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  16. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I too am a fan of subtlety. :agreed:
     
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  17. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    If editing as you go isn't getting you the progress you want, it's time to try another approach. I found I was much the same--getting too hung up on making things follow all the rules and be exactly right from the outset and hampering my forward momentum. Once I stopped worrying about it I was able to do 3x the output in 1/3 the time.

    But that was me, then. Now that I'm more disciplined my approach is a lot more of a hybrid.

    You just need to find a process that works for you. Some write tons of junk and don't edit until the very end, others fawn over each individual line until it's perfect before moving on. Most people fall somewhere in between. You just have to fumble around a bit until you hit on the right combination for you.
     
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  18. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I have found this to be the case with many facets of my writing. For example, I started out as a pantser (I hate that term), but found that my work needed better structure, so in my current project I did a lot of planning and outlining. But then, that didn't work out exactly as planned so I had to be flexible.
     
  19. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do, and you are right, it can cause problems. However, I did write one novella from start to finish and edited it later, and while it was fun, and readable, I would've had to spend equal amount of time re-writing it. So I never did. I think discipline is the key, setting a minimum word count (of new words, and good words that will stay, every day. Even if it's just 300 or 500 words a day, which leaves lots of space for editing as well, you will have a half-decent first draft finished in less than a year.
     
  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    As Ed said up river, what the OP is describing isn't really whether to edit as you go versus edit after completion. It's getting stuck in editing mode - and that can happen no matter when you edit. I would suggest keeping a copy of the "unedited" version handy; after you've fiddled with things for X amount of time, or gone over it X number of times, compare it to the original. If you see a real improvement, you're okay. If all you've done is minor fiddling, put it away and move on. But you definitely need to develop the self-discipline to move on. It will never be perfect and it will never be as good as you want it to be, but it will most likely be as good as you can get it. (And you'd be surprised at how good readers can think it is.) But the next one will be better, and the one after that, better still, and so on and so on. Writers are always learning, always developing. It's a life-long process.
     
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