Beware the clean edit

DSC00616 (2) - Copy (350x263)(Note: I have a cold.  It’s quite possible I’m going to write very poorly today.  Have a picture to make up for it.  Spring hiking in Colorado – such fun!)

I’m halfway through the (hopefully) final draft of the first novel.  This would be the version where I accept all changes and read it clean after incorporating any revisions from the edit I paid for.

I just read through a scene that required a lot of additional editing.  I went back to the comments I’d received from the editor to see if in my hubris I’d just ignored a lot of their suggested changes, but the revisions for this chapter were fairly minimal.  Same thing had happened on another chapter earlier in the book.

Having spent far too many hours of my own life editing work-related documents, I can tell you this happens on a normal basis no matter how good your editor.

Which is why, when you see a suggested edit from someone – don’t use this word, avoid this sentence construction, etc – you should always read the rest of the piece with that edit in mind.  A person might only catch it eight out of ten times, but it probably needs changing all ten times.

And, when you see a relatively clean few pages (compared to what came before), you can’t pat yourself on the back and think, “I must’ve really nailed this scene.”  No.  Chances are that one of two things happened:

(1) your reviewer was a bit distracted – it was the end of the day and they were worn out, it was the beginning of the day and they weren’t fully into edit mode, their cat was sick, the story wasn’t engaging them enough, etc. – or

(2) your reviewer got caught up in the story and missed the little errors.

Actually, there’s a third: the issues with the scene were too high-level for them to easily criticize.  It wasn’t a matter of a word here or a comma there, but of a need to re-write a large portion of the scene.  It’s not that the scene didn’t work, it’s just that it didn’t work as well as it could have.

(I have yet to receive an edit from a publishing house, so it’s possible that if I ever do I’ll have someone highlight six paragraphs and say, “this needs to be reworked,” but, at least in my experience with business reports, people don’t do that unless it’s really bad.  Or they’re me and they’ve flipped into hyper-critical edit mode.  But most people are nicer than I am.)

To me, the biggest danger for an author (and I told you I am not being very coherent today) is to write adequately.  If you write a “good enough” scene, unless someone has no respect for your feelings or was a high school basketball coach in a former life (same thing in my experience), your average beta is going to assume that’s the writing level you’re at and try to improve what you’ve written within that context.

If you are horrid and the scene is just a travesty that should not see the light of  day, THEN your betas will tell you.  But if it’s all right? Eh.  Don’t count on it.  Which is why you, as the author, have to be your own worst critic and have to always be pushing yourself for great instead of adequate.

(Random side example for why someone won’t try to improve what you write beyond your writing level.  Many years ago I was required to create a chess set in ceramics class.  It was going to be animals – lion as king, etc.  My teacher at the time somehow got inspired to help me create one of those animals and made an absolutely gorgeous tiger.  It was stunning.  But the tiger was supposed to be a bishop and it was two times as large as any of the other pieces I had made.  And a hell of a lot better looking than the ones I’d made as well.  And there was no way I could create a second tiger that looked anything like that first one.  So, here I had this poorly made chess set where all the pieces at least matched except for this one tiger that didn’t even fit on the board.)

Taking that example back to writing: Better to have a story that is universally a six on a scale of ten than to have a story that is a six on a scale of ten with one paragraph or scene that’s a ten. Or so I think.

So, beware the clean edit because it means you as the author will need to look more closely at that scene or story.  And beware the wholesale rewrite by someone who is much better than you because it may not fit the rest of what you’ve written which is even worse than writing the whole story adequately.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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