Editing Instinct – Do You Have One?

I finished editing Apostasy mid last week, and brought it down by 20,000 words. I decided to give another read-through to the Poetess’s perspectives to make sure I got everything right.

I have been surprised by the quality of work in some parts, and disturbed by how much I hate other parts. Some bits of the book are like a piece of a painting that has been re-painted so often I’m not sure it’ll ever look smooth again.

Overall, it’s a much better book, but I’m still worried about my agent’s reaction. The point of this process was to hand her a product so finished that she only has to give one round of edits for it. That pressure is making me second-guess my decision to keep a lot of the sub-plots, but I also kind of decided that I’m not going to cut anything that works and that I also like. If my agent feels it needs to go, then by I’ll means I’ll take it out, but I don’t want to remove something she might have said it was okay to keep, you know?

So I was wondering… when I’m editing, if I read a bit that makes me get that sinking feeling in my stomach, I know it needs some work. But how do YOU identify when something needs to get cut? Is it purely a logical decision, or do you have a physical indicator like me?

Thanks to everyone for your feedback on my last two entries. The discussions were great!

5 thoughts on “Editing Instinct – Do You Have One?

  1. It’s sort of a bad feeling. Like not going near dark alleys or bad neighborhoods. I write it, and sometimes I can just feel that there is something wrong with it. Usually though I don’t want to stop writing just to fix it, so I’ll let it go and fix it next time I open it up.

  2. Personally, I feel completely disgusted, when I see something that needs fixing. Disgusted with myself, disgusted with the work, disgusted with my prospects for success.

    That said, I’m realizing that that’s not exactly productive. I’m trying to learn to be less hard on myself when it comes to editing–a poorly constructed sentence is not actually a reflection on my worth as a human being!

    I’m still so impressed by your edits on Apostasy. I only hope I can be that thorough (ruthless?) when I hit edits on my current project.

  3. Wow. This was an awesome post. I relate so much to how you describe the way you feel when you re-read your own writing!
    I can’t say that I have a definite instinct for when something needs to be cut, (although once I see that a passage is bloated, I show it no mercy!) I do, however, get that sick feeling when something needs to be re-written! Sometimes, when I’ve rushed through a section just to get it on paper, and then re-read it later to see what needs to be revised, I CRINGE at how CORNY my first draft can be!

  4. I have the opposite problem. My first drafts are absolutely anorexic (around 38-40k), so I need to add in about 10-15k worth of words. I write pretty cleanly, but there are usually problems understanding motivation etc that need to be fleshed out, and a basic structural edit that needs to be done (I screw up timelines so badly).

    For the novel I’m editing right now (omg, I hate revision make it stop, haha — nah, it’s actually okay) I had to cut a 3000 word info dump. Seriously, a lot of people who read over the first chapter thought it was fine and I honestly had to sit there and read it through ten times in order to decide whether or not it needed to go (it was a super-voicey, super-necessary info-dump). Ultimately, I decided that it WAS fine, but the book would be stronger if I cut it and wove that info in elsewhere. So I cut — it was a purely logical decision.

    I don’t think I get any specific feelings when I need to cut (usually because I don’t cut that much due to my anorexic draft syndrome ;)), but I know that sinking-stomach feeling really well. When I see clusters of awkward sentences or stilted dialogue or whatever else, it attacks me. So yeah, I guess I have a physical indicator for recognising my own shabby work.

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