Struggling with editing your writing? Read this!

Author Michael Daoust, @twolovebirds245, shares his tips and two cents on struggling through the self-editing process!

Dear reader,

I hope you are well. I really do.

Now, I know this is supposed to be a blog post, but I am terrible at those. Consider this instead a salvaged letter that you have stumbled upon. A little snippet of time and advice from a quality friend, sent along on wrinkled and aged paper, from me to you.

I do hope that you are well. I hope that all is well, especially in your fantasy worlds.

Here where I am, the sky is cold, the sun is hidden and shyly so, and snow flirts with us, peeping forward and pulling away its presence.

In my fantasy worlds, characters are behaving according to their whims, and I am happily trotting along, scribbling it all down. You’ve perhaps been there as well, watching in a bemused fashion as worlds unfurl around you and happy accidents careen a story onward.

Sometimes, this feels like all there is to a story. Perhaps, in fact, we wish that this was all there was to the experience. I do. I wish sometimes that this semi-trance-like intuitive rush into a world is enough to convey the rush and experience. I wish I could just plug another person, analog style, into my visions and feelings. To convey every little color and taste and detail, the sheer essence of it all, just via my words.

Well, I hate to break it to you if no one else has, but that’s just not how it works.

I know, it’s crushing, right? Here’s a thing about writing. We take these images and thoughts and put them into words, and we then put these words onto a screen or document of sorts. We automatically assume that these words will then recreate these same images and thoughts once the words are read. That is a happy but dangerous lie.

As authors, we must be aware that the creations our words will spawn in another’s minds will not be exactly that which we had in ours. How similar it will be depends upon the clarity of our works, but even then, there will always be some difference, some personalizing, of the world.

Understanding this element to the writing result is essential to the crafting of a story others will enjoy. We must learn to create key words and turns of phrases that will craft the images we want into anothers' minds, and to do so in a way so as to evoke the proper emotions.

Let me tell you, this sounds far harder than it is.

The most important part, I have found, is to learn to let go. We must understand that our world will never be conveyed exactly as we see it. Our world is a precious little universe to us alone. Yes, we can share it, but it the readers’ world will be independently crafted from our own, it’s own little dimension of existence.

This is all very metaphysical, and I am sorry for that. But, letting go of trying to get across the perfect image is the key to getting across a similar image. Once you understand that it doesn't need to be perfect, you realize that you can modify it, tweak it, and perhaps even change it a little so as to produce the desired effect.

Speaking from experience, I will say that your characters probably won’t be angry with you if you change their hair color to a more memorable one, or if you switch up details so as to make the story more vivid.

Now, this is all very good and all, but right about now I’d suppose if you were to write me back, your letter would go like this: Dear Michael, what the hell? Tell me how to edit.

Alright, I shall do just that. It may take a little while, so have a tea and be sitting comfortably. This may, in fact, take several blog posts, so do be patient if they aren’t all published at the same time. Here we go.

Editing, my friend, takes a particular mindset. Drawing upon Buddhist inspiration, I will say that in order to edit properly, on needs to have ‘clear vision’.

Clear vision, as far as I have understood it, is to see things not as the objects our mind thinks they are, but as they really are. This has to do with writing in that, we must learn to see the images and senses the words evoke in and of themselves, not the images and senses that we think or want them to.

For example, suppose I want to describe a certain superhero named X. In my mind, this character is dashingly brave, charming, and sheds glitter and has a rainbow halo about them. This character evokes a sense of happiness and awe inside of me, a particular scent of lemon, and reminds me of mythology.

Now, I already have all these images and sensations in my mind, so when I read my own writing, this is what I immediately see within my writing. But were I to see with clear sight, I might realize that the writing does not, in fact, convey all that.

I must learn to see my writing with a fresh mind, without preconceptions, and to, truly, see it as a fresh mind would. This will allow me to see what a reader will see in it.

This skill is one that we must grow. This is what authors are referring to when they say to set a text aside for a certain amount of time so as to see it again with fresh eyes, without preconceptions. But sometimes we have good memories, and sometimes we are in a time crunch. Either way, I think this is something to be developed, if one wishes to edit a text in any way shape or form.

Now, ‘clear vision’ is a skill that takes much practice to hone. If you wish to learn more about it and how to develop it, I shall write you another letter on this. But for now, just know that you are trying to see your writing without preconceptions, and that this shall allow you to see what others shall, and that, all that, is the first step in editing.

The second step, my friend, is also very conceptual but also a bridge between the conceptual and the practical. It involves papers and notes, and I do think it takes some reflection. It is, I have to admit it, where I am stuck on some of my own stories.

Very basically, the second step is to know what your story is. Where does it begin and end?

Put very simply, you have presumably written a text, a tale. You now wish to edit it so as to recreate it as closely as possible within another’s mind.

But what are you trying to convey? I am going to broadly assume that there is much more than a sequence of events to your tale. There are flavours, emotions, suspense! There might even be jokes, humour, and meaning. Themes and things of the sort that your high school English teacher would be proud of you for remembering.

Here’s a thing. You must first turn your ‘clear vision’ within yourself and see what there is, there. Is it really just a sequence of events? Do these events make certain emotions arise? How? How come?

I strongly suggest that you, as the author and editor, take some serious time to sit down and question what it is of this inner experience that you want to put out into another person’s mind. Some elements to consider are colors, emotions, tastes, particular images, themes, settings, and sensations. Only once you have written everything else that comes to mind must you allow yourself to be consumed by the larger chunk of what we think the story is: the sequences of events.

Now you must write down the sequence of events, but keep these on a separate piece of paper or document. These events are largely a vehicle by which you will convey all the other elements you wished to bring forward, such as betrayal, animosity, intensity, etc.

For example, suppose you wanted to convey betrayal. You could write ‘betrayal’ in all caps across a page and be done with it. Or you could place several scenes and events in your story so as to convey it. It all is up to you, really, how you tell the story. Which brings us to our third and final element of our editing mindset, the ‘how’.

At this stage, we must look at the more technical aspects of our story, and decide how we are going to recreate it in another’s mind. In a way, we have lain out the map of events and the elements of the story, much like a bunch of items in a box. Now, we must choose how we shall have other experience them. Visually? Taking them one at a time out of the box? Or through a peephole, via a select angle so as to create a specific view?

This may seem foreign, but consider this: you can choose any character’s point of view, even that of the villain or a butterfly that flits on by. You can choose what events you describe in what order. You may omit certain events entirely and only refer subtly to them.

Here’s a final but very important note that I feel authors do not explore enough. ‘How’ one tells a story is nearly as important, if not more, then ‘what’ one is telling. ‘How’ crafts an entire experience.

Yes, you have certain materials to work with, much like any other artist. But how you display, arrange, and use them will shape the reaction and impression it conveys into the mind of the receiver.

Deciding on the ‘how’ involves using our clear vision and putting ourselves in the shoes of the receiving end. We must work backwards, if you will, from the second image we wish to recreate.

We must think, aha! I wish to convey this image, and so we must question ourselves on what elements we must place together in what order in our tale.

At this stage, we can be vague. We can involve suspense in event A, sadness on B, and particular colors in both.

Essentially, before you go on to the ‘nitty gritty’ editing steps (which will be detailed in further blog posts), you must have an idea of what image it is you want to recreate, and how you intend the viewer to experience it.

These steps are important, because without them one will not see what they are editing or what they want to edit it into. It is like working on a piece of machinery based entirely off memory, shaping it into no particular goal. The results will be dubious.

The next steps in editing are more technical. These are steps that I find often discussed, such as how to go about analyzing the grammar and sequences of events. But that, as they say, is for another day.

I hope that you are well, and that this has been useful for you. I wish you a wonderful rest of the day, and do feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.