Editing is Writing Too

I had an a-ha moment this morning. Turns out I’ve been measuring my writing progress by word count alone. Not the actual words I’ve written each day – that might have been more helpful. But by the running word count of my WIP. And because I’m editing the front end of it at the moment the word count isn’t changing dramatically. In fact some days it actually decreases. So as far as goal setting goes, it’s been pretty demoralising.

But the truth smacked me upside the head this morning: Editing is writing too, and I just need to set better goals for this season.

So how do I measure my progress while I’m editing?

1. Do I need a goal?

Turns out I do. As the word count stagnated, I was starting to feel like a fake. Am I the person who talks about writing, but doesn’t actually write? Well the piles of notebooks, scribbled ideas and post-it notes suggested something was indeed happening, so it looked like the goal needed a revamp before I psyched myself out of the book altogether.

2. What’s the point of editing?

Editing occurs in layers, and we all peel that onion differently. There are a number of reasons why I’m editing right now:

On a practical level it’s the school holidays (one more week to go) and editing is more suited to the short and rare periods of quiet time available in this house. I’ve also written the first movement of the book, so I’ve stopped at a natural break in the story. It seems like a good place to take stock and evaluate. Plus the plot will hang together better if I iron out some of the kinks now.

I’m also telling the story from five different points of view. Although it’s common enough in fantasy, it’s hard to pull off – and I want to be sure each POV is necessary and that their voices blend smoothly. I know some people enjoy reading it and others find it jarring – but I need to be confident going in to the next phase that each one is working. I could just push ahead, but I’d rather not write a whole storyline if it’s destined for my dead file.

3. What does it look like?

I must have read a lot of motivational books over the years, because I know the best goals are identifiable and measurable. So right now my goal is to do chapter edits. I take one chapter at a time, summarise the action, note down any glaring mistakes for later attention and see how the chapter works as a unit. Does it have a sense of progression (is anything really happening)? Does it have a hook? Does it flow? I’m writing a brief summary for each chapter and using these to evaluate the overall story arc.

It’s also easy to measure, because like a word count I can easily mark off my progress by the number of chapters completed. A quick look back, and I’ve already identified some issues that will strengthen the story when I do the first big rewrite. Later on these goals will change as I focus on character voice and dialogue, cleaning up the grammar and loose writing.

4. A Record of Industry.

Actually I’ve done quite well recently. (If you knew my children and the whirlwind of activity that goes on in our house, you’d wonder I ever got anything done at all. Distracted much? You have no idea…)

In order to keep motivated on this very long journey I’m trying to keep a record of how far I’ve come. This blog is part of that – and I am so grateful for all of you who share this journey with me.

I’ve also picked up a Mslexia Writer’s Diary (after reading about it on the lovely Kate Frost’s blog) which is full of writing tips and competition dates (UK). I use it solely to record my writing committments or achievements; whether I’m posting on this blog or There and Draft Again, giving critiques for others or keeping a record of writing or editing sessions. Looking back, I have been very committed.

The best piece of writing advice I ever received was to write every day. Sometimes that’s going to look like long stretches of prose, but there will be times when it’s working out ideas and doing the hard editing yards. I’m not too bothered what form that takes now – because I know it’s still writing.

How about you? How do you keep motivated in different seasons of writing (editing, drafting)?

26 thoughts on “Editing is Writing Too

  1. I had the same fear while writing the second draft for my YA Fantasy. My word count plummeted from 87 000 down to 69 000 but it was good, and I’m happier for my MS now. Eventually, it rose to about 80 000 after my second draft. And right now, I’m working on my third draft.
    Thanks for the suggestion because I’ll check if every chapter has a hook now.
    Writing is a bit magical because when you focus more on the writing and less on the word count, the word count magically increases πŸ™‚

    1. I love what you’ve said about focussing on the writing. At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. I’m glad to hear it’s going so well – best of luck with the third draft!

  2. My goals are very similar to yours: “writing” every day, whether it’s researching, taking notes, writing a first draft, editing or preparing my submission package. Good luck for the coming weeks!

  3. I love your method of going chapter by chapter, summarizing and noting . . . might have to give that a whirl when Book 2 reaches that stage.

    1. Actually it’s been a bit of a revelation – I did a full MS critique for someone and wanted to make sure I had a good handle on the plot (and could easily go back and find passages). So I thought the chapter summaries could help. It ended up being the single most useful thing about the whole review. The person found it more useful than the summary, and it’s a great method for big picture overview.

      I’ve started using it for my own work to good effect, and I’ve just started doing it with a writer friend (we do a chapter for each other before we meet – and talk it through). I’ve been thinking about blogging about it. Although this comment is so long I don’t need to!

  4. I’m so glad you got the Mslexia diary and are finding it useful – there aren’t many diaries out there that can actually motivate you to write.

    I find the editing process rather enjoyable, turning a rough first draft of a novel into (hopefully) a gem. I always tackle one chapter at a time too – making notes of errors, elements of the plot I need to check, and writing a brief summary. It can be hard at times to keep track of the plot when you’ve written 80,000+ words, and even harder I imagine with an epic fantasy novel!

  5. You’re right! Editing definitely counts. Now that I’m hopping between four projects, I still count the new words, but I also count how many pages I’ve edited/revised/proofread/etc or how long I spent brainstorming/plotting.

    For example, today I worked on the opening hook for my second book in a series (500 new words), plotted a novel (1 hour), wrote that book’s first scene (1K new words), revised another novel (5 pages), and edited the ending of another (1 hour/700 new words).

    I’m learning how to juggle all these projects, since a linear focus didn’t work for me last year. I also schedule in my social media time…this is part of my allotted one hour today. This kind of back-and-forth may not appeal to everyone, or be the most efficient for some, but I really like it so far. Then again, I’ll let you know how much I actually accomplish by the end of 2013. πŸ™‚

    Keep going! You’re doing great!

  6. Thanks Jolyse – it sounds like you’re making great strides! The one thing I’ve learned on this journey is to find the way that works best for you. Keeping a record has really helped me see what does.

  7. Count everything that you write. Any blog, note and comment. It is all writing and it should all count. If you look at it as an over all picture then you may not have finished your book but even writing one sentance a day you can use in your book is better than nothing and your over all word count is a lot better. It may look like cheating but to get a boost when you need it you should be looking at the whole picture. Not just one part of your work.

  8. I love editing/revising/rewriting. As you say, that’s all writing too! I too can get discouraged, and haven’t yet found a good way to track the progress. This time around I am going to try and work on ‘issues’ and see if that works for me. I think some problems are present in more than just one scene or chapter, or a change needs to happen throughout the novel, so I am going to call those issues – things like, making a character more consistent, removing a character or bulking up the part of a character, etc. Hopefully it will go well!
    Happy editing πŸ™‚

    1. Absolutely – sometimes just naming the task can really help. If I know I need to improve character voice (for example) it helps me focus more – rather than trying to fix everything at once.
      Best of luck!

  9. Editing is something that is an internal and external process. I find I have to be confident enough to step out of my head and ask for another set of eyes to catch the things I can’t.

    Great post.

    1. I totally agree – although I always wonder when is the best time to get the first eyes on a piece. Luckily I have a few trusted friends who see it at its first draft clunk – and can offer good perspective…

  10. You asked about motivation during different seasons of writing. I am actually going to do a blog post (or two or three) about what is motivating me these days to keep on plugging away. I’ll give you a brief preview:
    1) Reader Feedback – I have gotten lots of positive reader feedback and several “When is the next one coming out?”
    2) That first royalty check – yes, I have actually, technically made money selling my books in Kindle and in paperback formats and I have received payments for both
    3) My kids – my daughter is a voracious reader and needs more quality books to read, and my son will surely follow. They are, after all, one of the main reasons I started writing.

      1. The paychecks are tiny now, but they are coming in. The reader feedback is great. I have had one good friend who told me that fiction is not his cup of tea these days (he has spent the past six years diving deep into non-fiction history as part of his PhD) and even he said the story kept him reading longer than most fiction these days.

        Like I said, I’ll have more on that in my blog in the next couple of weeks, but it was extremely satisfying to have a co-worker tell me last Wednesday that he had gotten copies of my first two books the previous Saturday and his 14 year old had finished the first, was halfway through the second, and was bugging him to find out when book three would be out. Feedback like that makes writing (and even the drudgery that goes along with it) all that much more fun.

      2. Scott that is so encouraging – and you must feel great that your work is really reaching an audience. Your books are literally in my to read pile, so I will have to bump them up to the top of the list!

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