Completely Conflicting Contradictions

One problem with having a world of information at your fingertips on a minute-by-minute basis is that not everyone is sharing the same information. There are so many different views, opinions, and experiences out there that sometimes there is no straight answer to the question you are asking.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on edits and revisions for my zombie apocalypse novel. It is my hope and desire to go through the entire manuscript once, making revisions as I go and fixing up loose ends and missed opportunities, and then re-read the entire thing to see if there is anything (as a reader) that bugs me or doesn’t make any sense.

And if all the writers of the world were to read that paragraph that I just wrote, I’d wind up with 2 million emails explaining to me exactly why my plan is 100% wrong.

Didn’t honestly think I’d get a chance to use this pic again…heh.

I’ve never been one to follow in the exact footsteps of those who came before me (I like to climb a tree here and there, or swim across the lake instead of going around it), but I do research sometimes, and what I’ve been reading on the topic of editing and revision has got my head about ready to explode. The thing is, whether you’re talking to professional writers, editors, agents, publishers, or amateurs, you get wildly different stories on how things should be.

– I’ve been told that revisions should always be done by themselves, as a giant whole, and that editing (for typos and the like) should be the absolute last thing you ever do to a manuscript.

– I’ve read that revisions should be avoided at all costs because changing parts of the story changes the story itself and you wind up destroying the world that you had originally created.

– I’ve read that editing should never be done by the actual author because the one who wrote the story doesn’t tend to notice any of the tiny, niggling little errors and end up missing most of them.

– I’ve been told that no story is ready for publication until it has been edited again and again until the author’s fingers have begun to bleed from the torture, and then edited again.

– I’ve been told that perfectionism is what kills most stories and that editing should be kept to a minimum because nothing is ever perfect and trying to make it so will only torture you.

– I’ve read that if you think your story is complete crap, you’re probably delusional.

– I’ve read that if you can’t find anything wrong with your story, you’re probably delusional.

The list goes on and on, a never-ending list of contradictory advice that pulls a writer in a thousand different directions and threatens to make one go insane. Which advice do you take? Do you follow the tips of your favorite author, or perhaps the wise words of professional whose made a living at telling writers how to write?  Do you listen to your fellow writers or your critique group, or do you follow what’s in your heart? Do you engage the services of other professionals to do the hard work for you or do you buckle down, even though you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, and figure it out on your own?

I’d love to have a straight answer, for someone to simply tell me “Do this, this, and then this, and you’re done”, but I’m fairly certain that kind of solution does not exist.

Myself, I revise and edit at the same time, even though many people tell me that’s a recipe for disaster; I simply can’t separate the two functions in my brain. I also take advice from the critiques of others, but I also follow my own instinct when it comes to certain things because I believe in the “write what you would want to read” way of thinking. The big question mark for me, right now, is how to know when I’m done. With my currently plan I’ll be going through the entire manuscript twice, which is twice as many times as some people go through their manuscripts, and ten times fewer than some other people go through theirs. But here’s the thing: as I go through my manuscript, making my little revisions and edits here and there, I find that I’m happy with the story overall. Sure there are little things to change, typos to fix, poor wording to rearrange, but for the most part I’m happy. I think the story is good.

And that scares the bejeezus out of me.

How do you handle editing and revisions? Do you follow the advice of others or just do what comes naturally to you? Please share!

2 thoughts on “Completely Conflicting Contradictions

  1. As a general rule, when it comes to advice on writing/editing/anything, whatever you are told or read could be wrong. Before my father passed away, I promised to add the following disclaimer to the first page of any book that I decide to publish:

    “Everything in this book may be wrong.”

    I’m reminded of the story you wrote some time ago about buying the water valve at the hardware store. Like you, my wife knows more about guns, hunting, cars, and hardware then I do. That is a part of her I find to be very attractive. But when it comes to a home improvement project, each og us have a different idea or approach on how it is best accomplished.

    I’m using this as an example of how when we write, or do anything else in life, we must constantly identify facts from differences of opinion. When it comes to writing, the methods by which something is finished are as varied as the lives of the writers themselves.

    A famous poet by the name of Allan Ginsberg (whom i knew personally) once told me that he was very rarely, if ever comfortable or satisfied with his work, but he would release it and move on and continue to create in order to grow and develop into a better poet. Like him, some of what I create that I can’t stand is the same content that others are clamorous over.

    In other words, don’t be like the writers at The New Yorker Magazine who spend weeks debating over punctuation, or who sporadically follow then unfollow folks on Twitter (myself included – they followed me for a whole week).

    • I like that “Everything in this book may be wrong.” Very cool. An excellent way of making a point.

      I agree, when it comes to writing the methods and the results are as varied as snowflakes. The problem is that everyone’s method also involves a truck-load of opinions, many of them conflicting and argumentative. I’ve had people straight up yell at me for daring to do edits and revisions in the same go, and I had one critic tell me that a scene near the beginning of my book (which was very specifically placed to prove a point) “smacks of fetishism”. In both cases I was like, “Huh?” lol

      Allan Ginsberg sounds like a smart fellow. ^_~ If there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing and re-writing the same story over and over again for almost ten years, it’s that at some point we have to let go, trust our work to find its way, and move on to something new. You’ll never grow and become a better artist by struggling over the same piece over and over and over.

      All of this generally makes a ton of sense when I’m saying it to other people, of course. lol 🙂

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