I suspect most fellow authors would agree that it’s hard to get enough distance from what we write to view our work objectively. After months of drafting a manuscript, I end up with favorite chapters, favorite characters, even a few favorite phrases. I’ve never actually patted myself on the back for a sparkly line, but there are times when I’m happy about how the words fall together on the page. So happy, in fact, that they’d be tough for me to cut. Is that a sign I’ve lost objectivity?
Some say you should take weeks, even months, away from a manuscript before attempting to make edits. Great advice. Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced publishing world, it’s often impossible.
So I’m especially grateful for the week I spent in Denver doing an immersion session with Margie Lawson. Not only did Margie inspire our small group of four authors with her amazing editing strategies, but she taught us ways to examine our writing with fresh eyes.
I took multiple chapters with me, including one I’d polished many times and one I knew needed lots of work. I ended up making significant changes to both. In fact, I probably changed the polished chapter most of all.
Margie’s editing strategies focus on adding power, tension, and emotion to a line, a scene, your whole book. These are all areas I struggle with as a writer. But, you might be thinking, what if you don’t have a week to get away and look at your work anew? Fortunately, these techniques can be employed anytime.
One of the techniques that helped me most involved highlighters. By highlighting various aspects of a printed chapter, I got a quick visual overview of what was there and what was missing. A different color is assigned to aspects like backstory, dialogue, setting, and emotion, and it quickly becomes clear whether the writing is too heavy on narrative, lacks dialogue, or is missing emotion on the page.
The chapter I thought was well polished and ready to submit to my agent? Well, it turns out the words I’d written were mostly backstory and internal thought. My chapter lacked engaging dialogue and didn’t capitalize on the tension of the scene. For some reason, I couldn’t see those aspects clearly until I took a step back and examined the chapter in a different way.
Ironically, one of the other approaches I learned was to examine my writing, not with a wide lens, but as if each sentence lay in a petri dish under the high-powered magnification of a microscope. During one on one time with Margie, we examined my writing line by line, looking for cliches and finding places where I might add more powerful words or employ fresher descriptions. I admit that the sentence by sentence examination is time consuming. Even a bit uncomfortable. But it was another lens through which I could view my writing. Another way for me to approach what I’d grown tired of reading and polishing. Another technique for seeing my words from a whole new angle.
More details about Margie’s classes and techniques can be found at her website. If you’re a writer, what techniques do you employ to get a fresh view of what you’ve written?