Friday, June 23, 2006

Overworked

No, the title isn't talking about my job--the category on the post is writing.

In my last critique group before a lengthy trip (might write about that later), Heather made an interesting comment about my most recent submissions feeling overworked. When I thought about them, I could see what she meant. Both were chapters that have existed pretty much since the first draft. They've gone through substantial revisions on more than one occasion, sections added, sections ripped out, lots of fiddling. Although I don't think the individual changes were bad, the sum total of all that work had really started to show. Here's some things that I've noticed about them that seem typical of when I've overworked a piece of writing:

  • Sentence flow. A lot of my editing happens down at the sentence level. I love ripping through individual sentences, cranking them down, tightening descriptions, omitting needless words. It's important, though, to keep an eye on the broader context of the paragraph and scene you're in. A perfectly worded sentence that after your editing doesn't fit with the ones that follow it isn't good writing.
  • Minor editing errors. For good or bad, I mostly do my editing on the printed page, then type the changes in at a later time. If I'm frequently changes lots of things, that lends itself to minor errors, like tense changes, dangling pronouns or punctuation problems. I can catch most of these eventually, but over-edited text seems to have a higher rate of things that slip by.
  • Why are we here? In the latest chapters, one thing that I noticed was a couple of loose sections that really weren't adding much. Why did he stay at home instead of following that other character to something more interesting? In all the rework, I'd kept my nose so close to the material I hadn't considered whether I wasn't trying to pretty up a useless scene. Once I stepped back to rewrite the whole chapter from scratch, I found a different, more engaging path for the story.
I'd been planning to edit a few more chapters before embarking on the rewrite of my novel's second half, but with these two chapters as a start, I think I might just take of writing.