Part 4 of My Writing Process (Part 3: outlining is here.)


Personally, I don’t do many tidy, separate passes.  I tend to bounce around.  What I like to do is use comments in Word or GoogleDocs to flag problem areas so I can go deal with them at whatever point I feel ready.  Toward the end, I’ll do some thorough sweeps, but first I edit in sections.

Some of the issues I pay the most attention to:

1: Areas where I had some kind of emotion or experience where I want to grab the feeling and shove it into the reader’s chest.  In these places, my problem is getting caught up in the beauty of the language so it distracts me from getting to the point in a way that’ll make readers viscerally feel it.

These sections I flag and then leave till late, because what I need to do is stop being so attached to the pretty writing and just delete the little bastard and rewrite it.  (This is exactly what they mean by “Kill your darlings.”)

2: Characterization.  This is a huge one for me.  When I’m writing the first time, there’s so much to pay attention to.  So later I’ll really climb into the character’s head and rewrite so that it truly reads from their perspective: their speech patterns and emotions and sensory experiences infusing everything.  I want the reader to feel like they are inhabiting the character.  And since the way a person feels affects the decisions they make, and their decisions shape the plot, these things also have a powerful effect on my plots.  This is the thing that has usually gone wrong when I hit The Wall and have to back up, revise and fix things so the story will move forward again.

This is also where I do most of the work of “painting” the world around the characters—the things they’re touching, the way their surroundings look and sound and feel and smell.

3: Fixing the words I use and the structure of my sentences: remove unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, sections where I just don’t like the way it scans or where my language got ridiculous.  

I tend to write long, needlessly intricate and somewhat repetitive sentence structures in the draft.  To counter this, I use an exercise where I try to remove as many instances of ‘to be’ verbs as I can: be, is, was, were, will be, has been, become, being.  Not ALL of them, but these make their way in a LOT more than we realize, and removing the ones that will come out easily (and on occasion, ones that take more work but where the payoff is worth it) does many useful things.  It eradicates instances of passive tense that I don’t want, it forces me to liven up and vary my sentences, and it results in better, higher-quality writing all around.

And now, betas!

Betas can be useful anywhere in the writing process: early on to help you talk through plot or character, in the middle to help sort out where a scene went wrong or fact-check for you, or late to proofread for you.

Somewhere in the beginning or middle of editing is when I tend to start calling them in.  

For me, that doesn’t even necessarily mean the story is done.  Like I said, I personally start editing before I finish the story.  Generally the earlier parts have already had a couple of editing passes by the time I finish the draft.  And this has a couple of effects for me:

1: I lose perspective—buried too deep in the story to be able to objectively analyze the impact and success of things.  Too much exposure, I know too much about it, I’ve read over the bombshells too many times for them to have meaning to me anymore.

2: I’m just really sick of looking at the story. 

Betas bring a fresh, outside perspective, and also they lend moral support by reassuring you that no, you don’t need to burn your laptop and go become a nun in a convent where fanfic is banned!  So I call in a beta to ask, “Does this make sense?  What’s your impression?  What’s working for you and what isn’t?”

The other thing that I need betas for is to tell me when IT DOESN’T MATTER OMG STOP TINKERING WITH THAT SENTENCE.   Because again: perfectionist.  I’m getting better at realizing when the payoff just isn’t enough to justify the amount of time I’m spending, but it still helps to have somebody there to back me up.

And I think…*peers around*  Yeah, I think that’s the bulk of my current process.

This has helped a lot, actually!  Sorry for inflicting it on anybody who’s actually read it all, but it’s given me a much better idea of what I’m doing and what areas I’m working on/need to work on.  Thanks to Michi for asking!

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