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Between Writing and Editing

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Over the last couple of months, I've been taking a course at my favourite adult education institution, City Lit. The course was about editing your manuscript, and I took it because I thought it would help me edit my first novel, Labour Pains.

Generally, it was a good course. Dr Healy is incredibly knowledgeable and has so many tricks up her sleeve that one of my favourite moments of the day has become her warm-up writing exercises. I learned a lot. But not necessarily about editing. I don't know what I was expecting. I guess I'm still half-expecting editing to be this magical process in which you take a drab text, and you polish it until it's a masterpiece. Well. That's the process, sure, but there's no magic to it. Editing is not only an essential part of the writing process. It's pretty much the same as the writing process.

One interesting thing was that Sue talked about "inside" and "outside" writers. Outside writers, she said, start writing without any plan. They have a glimmer of an idea, and they start pouring words onto the page in no particular order. What they have as a first draft is a "vomit draft", in which normally there's no coherent story or consistent characters. Then they need to edit their work into a coherent story, fill out the characters, cut all unnecessary tangents, and so on. Inside writers, on the other hand, spend a lot of time up front researching and plotting, and then sit down to write. What they have as a first draft is much more coherent and consistent, but it sometimes lacks soul or energy or passion. They don't need much editing of getting the story into shape.

What do inside writers need as part of their editing process? I haven't got a good answer for you. It's possible that for inside writers the editing process is embedded in the writing process. I know it is for me. I usually know what the story is about and where I want the MC to go before I start writing. I do some rough plotting, and then I begin to write. It's just a part of the process for me. I don't feel that I can start writing until I know roughly where I'm going. The trouble is, of course, that what I have as a first draft is a rather stark description of what happened and why. It's very unliterary. It lacks soul. Now, some of it is how I want it to read. The story is about a new mom suffering from post-natal depression and anxiety, and one symptom of this condition is that emotions become muted. So my MC can't go around observing all the pretty things and thinking in metaphors because her mind is just not in that place. But it is in the genre of literary fiction. So I'm not entirely sure how that would work out.


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