The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,

When it comes to editing, I do it long hand. I print out my manuscript and take the dreaded red pen to it.

I don’t know why I do it that way, but it was a habit I have picked up, and one I continue to refine. I figure that to change it now would just be a waste of time and of good habits that I have formed by following such a regime.

The other day, as I was editing a collection of short stories that I wrote a long (long) time ago, I began to grow a little disenchanted with the amount of red pen that I saw marching over the page.

Granted, I was not only highlighting errors, but also sections that needed to be re-addressed and new ideas that came to me. As these stories have sat for about 18 months, it is understandable that I have grown enough as a writer to see my errors and correct them. Still, it is never nice to see so many corrections, even when advised by my own hand.

A brain wave struck, and it made me wonder if other writers to this also.

Editing it primarily about removing the bad, it is about polishing and shaping the lump of (word)clay we have thrown onto the table, and fashioning something from it that people want to read, cherish and adore.

However, what about if we also pick out the bits we like. What I plan on doing in the future, is to take the dreaded red pen to my errors and areas of improvement, but to use a highlights to pick out the lines, or sections that I really like. The strong sentences, phrases that make me smile or that I think really make the page stand out.

Maybe by doing this, introducing a little color and vibrancy to proceedings, editing will lose the daunting edge.

Is it possible that by highlighting what is good and what we love, we will also, in return develop a sharper eye for the things we dislike.

Personally, I would like to believe it would work that way. It would certainly lift my mood a little, when typing up the re-writes to see a page with positive things pointed out.

What do you think?

10 thoughts on “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,

  1. Alex, thanks for sharing your process. I edit longhand, too. I’m between one-quarter and one-third of the way through editing the first draft of my first finished novel (the draft is over 800 pages). I use the red pen for crossing things out and making minor changes. For larger changes, I write out the whole revised passage on a piece of notebook paper and attach it to the page.

    I don’t think I have a single full page without red pen marks on it so far. I’m considering that a good thing, though – the first draft is way too long, so I’m focusing a lot on streamlining it at the sentence level right now and hoping I can cut enough length at the sentence level that I won’t have to make massive sacrifices on the content level. (I’m not saying I’m not making substantial changes, by the way – I have moved, cut and added a lot of things so far. I just want to avoid making content cuts for the sheer purpose of economy when the content really does add to the story, plot and/or character development.)

    I’m also using a green pen to star my favorite parts. I admit that, especially at first, I felt a little vain doing this, like I was patting myself on the back. I wondered if other writers would see it that way.

    But like you, I’m hoping that by highlighting the parts I love, I can better understand what I love about them and see how to add more of the good things and strengthen the piece as a whole. It’s also about the emotional core for me, I think. The story strikes a chord with me on a personal level, and I do need to keep up my connection to the characters and the language and reaffirm to my neurotic, pessimistic side that the novel is, well, good. This is the first time I’ve ever tried marking my favorite parts of my own writing, so I can’t tell you whether or not it really helps, but to me it makes sense. In a writing workshop critique, we address things we like in others’ writing as well as things we think could be improved, so why shouldn’t we do the same for ourselves?

    Are you intending to try highlighting your favorite parts of your current revisions? I would be interested to see if it makes a difference to you.

    1. You hit the nail on the head there Krystie, I hope to learn from the highlighted positive points as much as from the negative red pen marks. 800 pages is quite a length, but I totally understand that you don’t want to get rid of good content just because the novel is long. I mean long does not equal rambling. I mean look at Stephen King, his books are regularly 6-700 pages, and if you count the dark tower series then you are looking at thousands of pages telling one single story.

      I have just finished my physical revisions for the first collection, but I have two more to go, and I know those need a lot of work, as I wrote them 2 years ago, so I will definitely use the highlighter technique and tell you what I made of it.

      I think sometimes, as writers, we become too neurotic about our own work. I do, I hate reading my own stuff, I cringe at it, and so a self congratulatory pat on the back every now and then is a good thing. In my opinion.

      Thanks for taking the time to read the post and leave such a great comment.

  2. Must admit I use blue pen, so once I reach the MS end I just might be able to read my notes. I’ve tried editing on-screen but it’s hopeless because you often need to go back once something’s changed and then you lose your place…can’t be doing with it.

    Don’t think highlighting good bits would work for me: too few 😉

  3. Um… I really enjoy editing because I do it straight into the manuscript. I think my constant edits and re-writes make the whole story a hell of a lot stronger even though they also make for a great deal more editing over all. The only time I do anything longhand is when I’m proofing and want to stop myself from doing a bit more polishing here and a bit more tweaking there. 😀

    1. I think I enjoy editing, although not while I am doing it. If you know what I mean. I used to dread it, but now, I am developing a tactic and everything is running smoother and feels a lot more productive. These short stories are my biggest test as I wrote them so long ago, some bits are just pure nonesese. I don’t think you are alone there Meeks, editing is never really done, every sentence can be tweaked or re-worded. One day the tone sounds right, the next day, our mood changes a little and the sentence reads differently and so we tweak it again. It is more about learning when to say, enough, this is it.

      1. Yes, knowing when to stop tweaking is definitely key. And I know exactly what you mean about mood playing a big part in how we react to what we’ve written. I’ve gotten into the habit of always working with music to try and keep things on an even keel.

  4. Good idea Alex, always remember the best bits to keep your morale up! I edit on the computer, mainly because I can’t be bothered to print everything out because our printer gets confused and tends to stop half way through. I also notice my best bits, and I usually exclaim “Wow, did I write that?” It is great fun when you think about it…

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