This morning I finished reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print. The book is assigned reading for a novel writing course I am taking at The Writer’s Center.
The book is a very quick read. The chapters are short, come with check lists and reminders, and also include exercises. (Presumably you are supposed to do these before proceeding to the next chapter. I never do that, though probably I should.) And despite the fact that the book contains pretty much the same information that any other book on editing and revising would (for example, “don’t tell, show“), it’s still pretty good.
Maybe what I like most about this book is that the authors are both editors. To that end, they are both very mechanical in the way they approach writing and editing. I share that vision of the writing process; for me, revising is a mechanical exercise. Drafting is the hard part because it is too open — any thing can (and should) happen during the first draft. But when editing, the writing becomes a lot simpler and, for me at least, a lot more fun. Did you use too many adverbs? Yes. Cut them. Are there better verbs that you could have used that wouldn’t need the help of adverbs. Sure. Add them. Too many characters, does your dialogue suck, does each scene have a beginning, middle, and end? Yep, you bet, and probably not. One by one, fix all of them.
For me, the first draft is hard and always sucks. But by focusing on one problem at a time you can transform the whole thing into something that is good — or at least something that is not so bad. It takes a lot of time, but writing is revising. The authors of Self-editing understand this and try very hard to impart it to the reader.
Kudos to them. But for me, the best book on revising and editing is still Style by Joseph Williams.
Can anyone suggest a better book on revision for fiction or nonfiction?