Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wearing Two Hats

No, I'm not wearing two hats because here in the Lake District the rain has turned to snow and its freezing cold (although it does look idyllic on sunny days like this - less so on the foggy days I've experienced so far in December!)

The two hats I'm referring to are 'editing hats'. When you edit, do you edit as a writer or as reader?

My novel is now shorter than it was when it first arrived in the Lake District, although it is not as short as I need it to be. Going through the text as a writer has improved it immensely. Not only have I corrected the spellings and the grammar and deleted all those pet phrases of mine (well, merely, just), I've also been improving the punctuation, layout and chapter structures. As a consequence, I now have more confidence in my text.

But with only 12,000 words sent packing so far, the next stage of the editing process is about to begin. I'm going to swap to my 'editing as a reader' hat. This is where I'm asking the question (as a reader), "Do I really need to know this?"

I'm currently reviewing the beginning of my novel and asking this question. I think the novel starts well - at an all important point of crisis (the main character discovers that they are being blackmailed), but could the start be even better?

Many of my students will know from their own assignments that I often strike out the first two paragraphs of their articles and say, "Actually, your third paragraph is your real first paragraph." As a tutor, this jumps out at me, because I am reading your text as any reader would. I haven't been involved in the creative process. As writers, we need to learn to do that with our own work.

This is why we're told to put work aside for a couple of days and then we can look at it afresh. Those days provide a barrier between the creative process and the editing process. However, we are still the creator and it is our creation that we are trying to edit, so we need to learn to be critical of ourselves. I'm now going through the beginning of my novel, cutting all that exposition - the explaining of the setting, scene and characters, that isn't actually needed. Ask yourself the question - Do I REALLY need to know this? If you answer 'yes', then ask yourself another question - Do I REALLY need to know this NOW? Might this exposition sit better, later on in your text?

This means that I am cutting some of my 'darlings' - those paragraphs that I am particularly pleased with. Is that sad? Yes, but they were not a waste of time. It was the enjoyment of writing those paragraphs that kept me writing the novel in the first place. Without writing them, I may never have finished writing the novel. So, they had their place in the writing process. And just because I'm deleting them from this piece of writing, it doesn't mean that I can't use them in another piece of writing, does it? Nothing in this writing game is wasted!

So next time you come to edit your work, set out both hats on your desk. Put your 'Writer' hat on first and edit. Then replace it with your 'Reader' hat and edit again. You will find that the text will be better. There's a cliche that says, 'two heads are better than one' and I'm of the opinion that 'two hats are better than one' too!

Talking of 'twos', last Friday the Cumbrian town of Keswick had 'two' too - two celebs for the Christmas Lights Switch On. The first was HRH Prince Charles, seen here meeting the staff in Booths Supermarket, after having met some of the staff from the Emergency Services, Army, County Council and Environment Agency who are involved in the clean up operation following the flooding. Little did I know when I was sitting in their cafe, that Charlie would walk in for a cup of tea and a sticky bun. I didn't shake hands with him - well, with all the hands he shakes in a day, he must be one of the biggest spreaders of Swine Flu in the UK at the moment!

When refreshed he made his way up into town and joined television presenter, Julia Bradbury, to switch on the lights. The message to the outside world was a clear "the Lake District is open." This is when they need the visitors.

So, good luck with your editing. And good luck with your Christmas shopping. Which reminds me ... I must start doing that soon!