Despite the fact that everything from my website to my social media is tagged "Ellen Smith Writes," the truth is that I'm much more of an editor than a writer. ("Ellen Smith Edits" just didn't have the same ring to it ;) ) The first draft of anything I write, whether freelance or fiction, is generally pretty terrible. The first edit is a vast improvement simply because I go back and finish all my sentences! It takes several read-throughs--and often a few rewrites--before I'm ready to share anything I've written.
Editing is where I really see the difference in my work as a left-brained writer and a right-brained author. When I'm working on a freelance project, my editing process is very left-brained. I'll separate it into two phases: big-picture revisions and detail-oriented edits. First, I go through and make sure that the topic is clear, all the main points have been supported, and the paragraphs are in order. Then, I go back and delve into the nitty-gritty: grammar, spelling, and word choice.
Sounds nice and organized, doesn't it?
All that tidy left-brained thinking flies right out of my head when I start editing my fiction work. I'm too close to the story to see the big picture. I love these characters. I've replayed their struggles a hundred times in my imagination. I know this story inside and out. That makes it far too easy for me to obsess over the tiny details and miss the necessary big-picture revisions. As the saying goes, I can't see the forest for the trees.
In my current work-in-progress, these are some of the "trees" I've been focusing on:
- Are these sentences streamlined to pack a punch, or are they just short and choppy?
- What gesture would this character make? Is she nervous or is she also a little annoyed?
- Am I overusing all my favorite words? (it, heavy, glanced, sighed, and said)?
Meanwhile, here's the "forest":
- Who are these characters--and what made them who they are?
- What are the themes and messages in the story? Do they carry through?
- Is this the best way I can possibly tell this story?
I'm at a point now in my work-in-progress where I've obsessed over every branch, twig, and leaf of each little tree. Still, I just don't feel quite right about this draft. I don't know if this story is fully told.
So there's one more thing I need to do before I send this out for beta readers and professional editing. I need to back up--wayyyyy up--and look at the big picture. I have to look for the whole forest, if you will.
It must be somewhere behind these trees.