Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Red Ink Blues, or, Revising Your Novel Without Pulling Your Hair Out, Part III

Oh, joy! It's that special time of the season. That's right, folks. It's line-editing time. The revision stage always reminds me of a complex abstract painting, like the one by Wassily Kandinsky above. Yes, it's another art-history themed writing tip.

Every word in your manuscript is as important as each particular brushstroke of a painting. It's the details that make up the composition, just like in writing. All those details can be explored in various studies-- like a first draft.

But the only details that wind up on the finished canvas are the ones that help contribute to the painting as a whole, and satisfy the principles of design-- balance, unity, rhythm, etc. We should strive for the same when we revise. No words should make it onto the page of our finished draft unless we're absolutely certain they contribute to the quality of the work as a whole. So how do we go about turning our study into a work of art? Lots of hard work and feedback, of course.

On Monday night I printed out the entire manuscript of my WiP. Sure, it's only about 55K right now, so it didn't take up that much paper and ink, but I was glad I decided to go for it. Maybe it's the distance, or the fact that the words look so different onscreen, but editing the printed page has shown me that I can make so much better progress this way.

Every previous novel I've written wound up going too long, and I had to cut down from there. Since I purposely "under-wrote" this story-- a counteractive measure that I hope doesn't wind up being counterproductive-- I know I need to beef the manuscript up in places. Reading a paper copy helps me focus on what's NOT on the page, instead of stressing over what IS. When I'm reading onscreen, I get lazy with my line-editing. I fall into the habit of mostly correcting grammar and typos and missing words, but I'm not seeing the bigger picture, which is what the print-out has helped me to do.

(Worried about the prohibitive cost of printing out your entire manuscript? You can always print it out a chapter at a time, and reuse the other side of the used pages once you've finished adding your notes and changes to your Word file. Won't save you ink, but it will save on paper. Make sure you're printing with black ink, which is cheaper. I think my black ink cartridge is $15, and I buy paper at Office Depot whenever it is on sale. And in my ever-so-humble opinion, fifteen bucks plus paper is worth it to hold a copy of my manuscript in my hands.)

Working from the print-out has helped me to see the story behind the words, to think like a reader and a writer. And an artist, lol. Not to mention, seeing your words printed on clean, white paper really makes you feel like a writer, so for a quick ego boost-- don't worry about getting too full of yourself, it'll only last til you start scrawling all over your clean, white pages-- print out your novel. Feel the heft of the full manuscript in your hands. It will remind you of all the hard work you've done when the revision blues start to get to you.

For more information about line-editing, check out author David Louis Edelman's article, Line Editing in 10 Easy Steps. His line-editing techniques focus on trimming the fat and making sure you look like a professional, including eliminating overused and crutch words, and straightening out mixed metaphors.

But don't forget to stop and think about the bigger picture during your revisions. Think of your novel as a whole-- one that must be planned in advance in order to wind up with a masterpiece!

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