… and Ruthless Efficiency

Before the rains came, I managed to get some gardening done. Well, weeding to own the truth. I was ruthlessly pulling out the soursobs in a vain effort to cull the weeds only to have them return next winter. But cull, I did and I am glad it is done.

I have also been weeding out a short story that is due for submission to a magazine by the end of this month.  Wednesday night I started editing; it was my set task for this week’s Writers’ Race. I did not manage to finish in the allotted time so continued on through the evening with rewrites and editing. Total score: 206 words culled (to bring it under the story limit).

There is really a lot of rewriting to do on this story; I wrote the first draft over 5 months ago and ‘left to sit to polish later’.  As it was not due til the end of August, it sat. And sat.  This week I picked it up and started on editing and rewrites. It was not as good as I remembered.  The sentence construction was cumbersome, making it sound stilted in areas. I still liked the story and was happy with the structure of the scenes. I am keen on reusing the main character. She is feisty and has sex appeal.

The main thing that struck me was how much my writing changed in that relatively short time. What astounded me was that I could actually recognise the change and how much easier (though it is still like pulling teeth) it was to rip sentences and sections out of my writing.  The trick is to be ruthless and efficient with the words. I had to loose over 200 words and it looks like I may just pull this one off.

Thursday, I spent over ten hours working my way through each sentence for my second major rewrite. Finally, it is starting to feel a little less cumbersome.  I am still not totally satisfied with the end result but there is light at the end of this editing tunnel.  My next step is to reprint the rewritten draft and then re-read it as a whole. Only then can I really decide if I am even tempted to do a total rewrite…

With ruthless editing, I am more confident that the plot is tighter. I have removed the original ending;  it was superfluous to the current storyline, containing unnecessary background and hinted at a further plot so is best the subject of an entirely separate story. Though part of the original draft, it felt like an add on. It related to character background (which I knew) but there was no word space to add required information for the reader.

I am still learning my editing skills and have found the following are useful:

  • fill in any blank names. Sometimes when I am on a writing roll I use a dummy name or letter so I don’t get sidetracked. 
  • Cull the commas. For me, I put commas everywhere, especially in my first draft. I usually have to remove at least half of them.
  • removed repeats: This can be concepts or whole sentences or actions. Sometimes I repeat words. A thesaurus is invaluable on such occasion.
  • removing ‘he said’/’she said’, ‘it’ or ‘this’. When these words re repeated it is boring. I feel that I have been lazy and should rewrite the sentence to be more descriptive.
  • use more interesting verbs. (way to go  thesaurus… again!). He walked along the road, is a very pedestrian sentence. I could add lots of adverbs but prefer to use a more descriptive verb: eg. He slinked along the road.
  • using more descriptive nouns (what part of the road): eg. He raced along the highway or It oozed along the gutter
  • Removing unnecessary sentences and too much information:  Some background is needed but, in shorter stories, only some background information is needed. Some sentences are just rehashes of information previously mentioned or are just totally irrelevant to the story.

I feel that, having left this project for such a long time, I have learnt a few lessons in ruthless editing and am more hopeful that I can polish it successfully without the need for a complete rewrite.  (I am also just a little excited that I can see an improvement in the writing in a short time).


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