Editing one’s work, whether it’s for flash fiction, a short story, a novella, or a novel, can be frustrating and time-consuming. But, it’s a necessary evil for all those who want to get their work as polished and professional as possible. And, oftentimes, a much better story will be the result of it.
During my thirty years of serious fiction writing and my tenures in a number of writing/critique groups, an old discussion often comes up. It’s one which I believe has no really right answer although the two schools of thought often clash. That is, should a writer finish whatever he or she is writing and edit afterwards or self-edit as he or she writes?
It seems most writers I talk to and most writing “how-tos” I’ve read favor the former--edit after completing the work. I subscribe to the latter--I edit while I’m writing. The advice I give to beginning writers is to do whatever is comfortable and natural for them. Everyone’s different and has different methods and styles of working. There’s really no right or wrong way to self-edit.
I’ve tried to finish a work and then go back and edit but I just can’t do it. It’s not that I’m compulsive about it or a Type A personality in that regard. I just like to play with what I’ve written previously, to try and improve it or completely change it based on ideas I come up with after I’ve finished writing a particular passage. I don’t outline but I do take notes and jot things down when I think of them but it’s just more fun for me to try an idea out on what I’ve written right away. Writer and editor Anne Lesley Groell remarked at a writers’ conference I attended that this was how she also worked on her writing. So I feel like I’m in good company!
Of course, this is more involved than just line-editing although that, too, is important. Spellcheck and grammar-check are good tools in your word processing software but aren’t always completely successful. My wife told me a story about an old boss of hers who was looking for another job. His office assistant typed up his resume for him on her PC and ran the spellcheck. Now, sometimes, you can misspell a word into a different word that’s completely legitimate. This particular incident happened in the eighties where a style of resume writing allowed you to put down what you did in your spare time. My wife’s boss told his assistant to put down “white water rafting,” as a hobby, which he’d done only once or twice. The assistant transposed the “r” and “f” in the word “rafting,” which the spell check didn’t catch because “farting” is a real word. Well, needless to say, the guy didn’t get the job! But everyone in my wife’s office, after hearing about this through the grapevine, had a good laugh.
So, it’s important for someone else to take a look at your work, whether that person is a professional editor or a fellow writer or a friend. A fresh set of eyes always helps. This is where a writing/critique group comes in handy or someone you trust to be honest with you about the work.
Still--mistakes can happen. An example from my début novel, THE SIXTH PRECEPT, is a pretty glaring one. Despite my own editing and that of my publisher’s editor, we both let a few misspelled words and phrases slip through the cracks, which I discovered after the book had come out. One of my characters is talking about “cruisin’ the Wet.” Say what? It should have been “cruisin’ the net (small case also)”. I still don’t know how that one got by. The mistakes have been corrected in subsequent printings and downloads but it was pretty embarrassing.
One thing that’s helpful to do (whether you self-edit while you write or after) is to put the story, book, article aside for a couple of months (depending on your submission deadline, if any) and then come back to it after you’ve gained some distance. It’s easier to pick out mistakes in both line-editing, plot, structure, etc. once you’re not so close to it.
I recently heard a story of an author who had left the small publishing company who had published his first book because he didn’t like to be edited. That’s a pretty extreme and, ultimately, self-defeating reaction. Writers have to develop a thick skin and be prepared to take criticism. Such comments, no matter how much you may disagree with them, will help your work to become that much better (although, if you feel very strongly the proffered advice isn’t right, then it’s absolutely your prerogative to ignore it). Though writing is often referred to as a “solitary profession,” working with other writers and editors can be a very positive experience and one necessary for future growth.
So, edit yourself any way you want! It’s important but remember you may not catch everything that can drag your work down. Trust in yourself but also in other people to help you in bringing your creative vision to life.
|Author Larry Ivkovich|
Larry Ivkovich is an IT professional and the author of several science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories and novellas, published online and in various print publications and anthologies including M-Brane SF, Afterburn SF, Penumbra, Twisted Cat Tales, Abaculus III, Raw Terror, Triangulations, Shelter of Daylight and SQ Magazine.
He has also been a finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest and was the 2010 recipient of the CZP/Rannu Fund Award for fiction.
His début urban fantasy novel, THE SIXTH PRECEPT, is now available from IFWG Publishing, Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He is a member of two local writing/critique groups, the Pittsburgh Southwrites and the Pittsburgh Worldrights, and lives in Coraopolis, PA with his wife Martha and cats Trixie and Milo.
The Sixth Precept
In 16th century medieval Japan, Yoshima Mitsu, who is gifted with psychic powers, uses her prescient abilities to send her young attendant, Shioko, into the future. There, Mitsu believes Shioko will be safe from the purges of the maniacal warlord Omori Kadanamora, his warrior monks and his half-human, half-bestial Shadow-Trackers.
In present-day Pittsburgh, police Lieutenant Kim Yoshima is attacked by a creature out of someone’s twisted nightmare. In the aftermath of that terrifying struggle, Kim finds a young Japanese girl named Shioko, lost, confused and calling Kim “Mitsu” and her monstrous attacker a “Shadow-Tracker.” Wayne Brewster dreams of the costumed hero, ArcNight. But more than that, he feels bizarrely connected to the fictional crime fighter as if ArcNight and his comic book world are real. And in all of his dreams, Brewster sees one constant, one face repeated over and over--the face of Kim Yoshima.
Empowered by a mysterious book, The Five Precepts to Enlightenment, Kim realizes her destiny is in the past. Using her own burgeoning esper powers, Kim, accompanied by Shioko and Brewster, travel by means of a temporal rift to feudal Japan.
There they must assume different personas to fight Omori and creatures of Japan’s mythological world to fulfill ancient prophesy and modern historical fact. If they fail, history will be altered and the world will change forever.
Twelve signed copies are up for grabs!
The Sixth Precept
EXCERPT – Pittsburgh, PA 2010
Kim heard the shot just as she was putting her briefcase into her car. She didn’t think twice, her instincts taking over. She pulled her Sig P228 and an extra clip from her backpack, threw the pack into the back seat and headed for the lot’s exit door.
The door had a special keyed locking system on the outside to keep possible intruders out. From within the parking lot, it was essentially an emergency exit. She looked up at the security camera stationed above the door and thought about contacting Joe, Lazo’s security head. No time, she decided. Besides, there was no need for two people to be in a possible line-of-fire. Once she took stock of the situation, she’d call for backup on her cell phone. She punched the button and as the door shussed open, exited the lot.
The humidity was all over her; heavy, moist air settling on her skin like a hot towel. It had stopped raining but the streets steamed; the glow of the streetlights cast an eerie luminescence throughout the empty block. She blinked, creeping into the shadows at the side of the garage and then, quickly, opened the section of gating outside the emergency exit and jogged out into the street.
No sounds. Nothing. The street was devoid of life.
That was when she saw the figure walk out into the light.
It’s her. The Yomitsu. The Eminent Lord be praised!
The shadow-tracker felt a thrill of another kind as he saw his target, gun in hand, crouching across the street. Her scent, even at this distance, filled him to the bursting.
I can take her, he thought, his head throbbing as he blinked the spots from his eyes. I can bring her back to the masters myself! The hell with their rules! The situation had become something entirely different. She was so close! Why shouldn’t he take advantage of this? The masters would know then, that despite his miscalculation on the three gang members, despite the wound he had incurred as a result, that he had still served his purpose.
Yes, he thought, rising to his feet. He would make his mark, no matter what. He walked out of the alley.
The silhouette was tall, lean, moving like a dancer, sinuous and mincing. The muted light revealed some kind of tight-fitting garment clinging to its body. Its hair was long, knotted into thin corn rows. Its eyes reflected the light as…yellow?
Something sharp glinted from the tips of its fingers.
What in heaven? Kim raised her gun. The figure stopped, its form backlit by a wavering glow from the alley behind it.
Trash fire? This one doesn’t look like your typical street person.
The figure began to move again, loping (yes, loping was the right word) toward her, its motion controlled and precise like a gymnast.
“Stop right there!” Kim cried. “Police officer!”
The figure entered a pool of streetlight, its face briefly illuminated.
It was the face of an animal.
“Freeze!” Kim yelled, a chill running up her back. “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
The creature speeded up, suddenly charging like a sprinter on overdrive. Kim fired once over its head. No effect. It was only a few feet away now, its arms and legs moving in a whirlwind of motion. My God! Kim thought, her fear building. She aimed a kill-shot, straight at the creature’s head.
The thing shifted to its right, dodging the bullet as if the deadly projectile was moving in slo-mo. It reached a clawed hand out toward Kim, its suddenly visible face stretched into a ghastly parody of a smile.
Kim threw her body sideways. She fell, rolling on her side, the pavement smacking her hard. She felt a crunching pain on her waist.
She pulled herself to her feet, breathing fast, holding her luger with both hands extended in front of her.
Her breath caught in her throat. The creature was down.
Kim blinked. The thing was fast, unnaturally fast. It should have had her. She was positive it had dodged her bullet.
Yet, it lay facedown on the street, struggling to get up. This close, Kim could see the blood on the side of its head.
And that face. Inhuman features glared up at Kim. Man? Dog? It looked a combination of both—exaggerated bone structure, sharp teeth, high cheekbones, sloping forehead, yellow eyes.
Kim fell back a step, a sudden, unreasoning fear taking control. What is it? Both her hands shook as she tried to hold the gun steady. What—?
The creature suddenly leaped to its feet and flung itself at her, arms wide, mouth open. Kim fired and fell back, flinging her arms up over her head.
What? Kim looked wildly around her. The thing was gone. Where had it vanished to?
Have to call for backup! she thought frantically. And surely Joe saw what happened on the security cams! She started back towards the garage, hoping the gate would open again as she fumbled at her belt for her cell phone, looking over her shoulder. The fear was like a burning fire running through her system.
A low moaning floated through the night air. Kim stopped and turned back towards the alley. Someone’s hurt, she thought, licking her lips. Probably by that dog-thing.
Taking a deep breath, she jogged back toward the alley and stopped at its entrance, the skin between her shoulder blades tingling. If this dead-ends, I’m trapped. And yet I just can’t leave someone in there if they’ve been injured.
The moaning increased, a desperate sound radiating pain and confusion. Kim got her cell phone off of her belt. Got to call Lazo, she thought. Have to get—Damn! She stared dumbly at the cracked casing of the now-useless phone. That’s what I felt breaking when I hit the street. Cheap shit! The Captain’s going to hear about this!
She snorted. Listen to me. Come on, Yoshima, get your act together!
Darting another look back towards the street, Kim took a few tentative steps into the alley. “Who’s there?” she called, her mouth dry. “Are you hurt? I’m a police officer!”
A gurgling, wet sound answered her, a barely recognized imitation of speech. Gritting her teeth, Kim entered the alley.
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