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E is for Editing

Image of the letter E in upper and lower case to identify this post as "E" in the 2021 A-Z challenge

If there is one chore writers hate it is editing. It seems only first drafts loom larger as something writers hate 1. Still, unless you are a writer in the mold of Mark Hamill’s Mozart from Amedauous 2 you need to learn the basics of editing.

For the indie, author editing carries a wide set of choices, both opportunities and hazards. I suspect most indie writers have either heard Heinlein’s Rules for Writing or derived something similar of their own. Rule Three is “You must refrain from rewriting (except to editorial demand).” It is a source of considerable debate among writers. A quick DuckDuckGo search reveals a complete rejection, a complete embrace, and two kinds of nuance. The stories of Harlen Ellison writing in a storefront from typewriter to window certainly inspire a rejection of the rewrite among writers. The need to write quickly creates a need to write well on the first draft. Back when typewriters were the norm, authors were allowed a small number of hand corrections per page on submission; if you exceeded that, you needed to retype.

While retyping could be an issue, Lawrence Block said he always made changes retyping his novels. He even recommended if your work is submittable, but needs to be retyped to produce a clean copy even if you can afford a typist. He notes a friend used to retype her own work, but after some success, she hired the job out. Block observed, “but her style’s not as polished in her latest books because she’s not doing her own typing.”

Of course, retyping a story to get a clean copy has disappeared in this age of word processors. Even someone using older tech, such as George R. R. Martin, with his continued use of WordStar for DOS, is still printing from a word processor. Even large structural changes, which Block noted are the only thing that would lead him to retype an entire book when he wrote The Novel From Plot to Print that included the observation about polishing in typing a new draft.

I have wondered if this is a mistake. I have considered experimenting with retyping in my process. Could marking up a written manuscript and, instead of doing the edits in your word processor or text editor of choice, typing it fresh from the beginning serve as a useful step in language polishing? My typing speed is in the mid-60s. A 60,000 world novel, what I consider the higher end of a good length for the stories I like to tell, would take me about 20 hours to retype, or about a week at four hours a day. That’s adding in an allowance of about 25% time of the raw typing time to incorporate corrections, but marked up and ones that come to mind as I type.

Of course, there is a lot more to editing than just retyping. Even excluding proofreading, which I might consider under P, fixing continuity, managing pacing, making sure there are no plot holes, and a hundred other things need to be addressed. At my level of experience, I don’t have much to offer in new advice beyond consider retyping instead of just using your word processor.

I need to rewrite the second Leo and Zoe3 story because I shifted the point of view from the first to the third person at some point in the writing. I think instead of editing it Scrivener (I wrote it before I left that platform) or in Emacs. I think I’ll print it, mark it up, and retype it.

  1. For those wondering how writers can hate first drafts, it seems to be a common condition among writers that we love having written but hate writing[]
  2. Yes, Tom Hulce portrayed him in the movie, but Hamill was the star on Broadway. Milos Forman rejected him for the film telling Hamill “you must not play the Mozart because the people not believing the Luke Spacewalker as Mozart”[]
  3. I am serializing the first on WattPad[]
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  1. Interesting idea, to re-type. That indeed seems like a LOT of work these days, but it was not that long ago that that was the only way. It is also said that there is a difference between typing and writing by hand, which is slower and gives us more time to think about what to write. We’ve unlearned the slow mode of creating.
    Nice post! I’m visiting from the A to Z master list…

    • Thank you for stopping by.

      It does seem like a lot of work, which is why I’m only going to try it on something that needs a lot of reworking to begin with. I have thought about writing by hand part, but I cannot imagine writing a novel by hand. Certainly not while holding down a day job.

      I’m going to put that retyping on this week’s calendar. Once I’ve done it, I’ll post my thoughts about the experience.

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