Start writing fiction 3: writing is editing

Reflecting on what you have written – Most writers spend as much, or more, time editing and redrafting as they do writing first drafts. But you can’t edit without first of all getting that first draft down. Once you have a first draft, you have something to improve on. This is where you can rethink what you’ve done. Change whatever you like. Say things differently, or clarify where necessary. You can improve your writing.

Editing practice

Edit the following passage down to no more than two lines:

The heavy black and blue winter sky groaned awfully with rain clouds that at any moment were really about to fall crashing heavily down upon the street where, because it was rush hour, so many people, wearing all manner of different clothes, hats, shoes, boots, some of them carrying bags, suitcases, briefcases, scampered and strolled about the place as though oblivious to what was just about to happen over their very heads. One of these people was called Hilary and concealed inside her voluminous coat she carried the loaded, snub-nosed gun, and she also seemed to be the only one looking upwards into the tempestuous thundery heavens.

Suggested version:

The winter sky was heavy with rain. It was rush hour. Hilary concealed the loaded gun inside her coat.

Dipped into the comments – mentions of being too short and sharp, lacking atmosphere and being stylistically different.

A video explaining the rewrite [sic] highlights the following points:

  • the passage is overwritten, with unnecessary information and is so cluttered that it loses sense
  • be wary of qualifying words and phrases, overstatement, repeated references and over-emphasis
  • do word choices contribute something to meaning, or are they superfluous or confusing?
  • characters should be active and the subject of sentences
  • strike out redundant bits and glue together any leftovers : D

According to the accompanying text the aim in editing is in many ways the aim in writing – clarity of expression. But maybe not quite so terse – why two lines? For alternative approaches, see how Smee Stories and Cat Lumb approached the task.

This is the best bit of the whole course for me so far. So what’s the lesson – stick to editing re-writing?

I’ve just revisited my post about a writing MOOC I vaguely audited last summer, Thinking like a writer from Michigan State, running again from 23 June. Maybe have another look, the content is still there. It used the Eli Review system, which has to be better than FutureLearn – according to comments as ever it’s not cutting it for dialogue.

There’s been some controversy about reproducing work from within FutureLearn – see Smee Stories’ brief intermission.

I’ve now caught up – week 4 started on Monday. Hurra!


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