Can You Over-Edit?
Good Girl’s final edit and the beta process have taught me that you can, in fact, over-edit your work. I write in first person, present tense. I am the character as I write. I am in their head, expressing their thoughts and actions on paper. During an edit, I am no longer the character. I become the editor. It’s hard to step back and not mess with the flow. Yes, when you wear your editor hat, you have to check for grammar, punctuation, misspelled and misused words, redundancy, and bad habits, WITHOUT stepping on the other voices. But there comes a point when your characters no longer sound like your characters and begin to sound just like you. It’s called your author voice, and it carries over into everything you create. The line you should never cross is the editor voice. If you find yourself second-guessing words, replacing them- prettying them up, you’ve crossed that line.
Since I completely revamped Good Girl, I sent it to way, way too many people to check over my work and look for mistakes. I entered the ‘too many cooks in the kitchen‘ zone. Betas are invaluable, and I can never express how thankful I am that they are willing to give me their time and opinions. But, at the end of the day, this is my creation. The large grouping of betas gave me great insight into how you can over-edit. A few over-thought the process, becoming head-blind and only noting one thing, to the point they didn’t see anything else. This was valuable to me, because it showed me how I was doing the same thing. It is called a beta read for a reason. They are to ‘read‘ and note anything that yanks them from the story, and I need that. That is what annoys purchasing readers and reviewers. But with too many betas, you begin to have too many ‘voices’.
I am the one who has to rewrite the draft, because I am the only one who knows the characters. I am the one that has to rewrite the draft, because it is my author voice that created the characters. It has been an uphill battle to overlook everything that wasn’t necessary during the editing process. I kept second-guessing myself. “Maybe they are right.” “Maybe this sucks.” And then I realize that the sentence structure was not my sentence structure, that it began to take on the cadence of the beta reader. And that is why it’s not called Beta ‘edit’ or Beta ‘write’.
Whether wrong or right in the eyes of a ‘professional’, it has nothing to do with my storytelling. Two of my favorite authors are without a doubt butchers of the English language. Does that make me love them any less? Hell, no! It makes them unique. Now, I’m not talking sloppy, lazy writing. I’m speaking of their voice and the way their stories unfold, be it the flow of their words or the way they put it to paper. If you handed me a passage of their writing without stating who it was, I could accurately say who wrote it. That everlasting impression is what captivated me and kept me entertained for years. It’s what makes me salivate for their new releases- waiting more than a year per book. I want to be that for my readers, flaws and all.
Voice is more important than anything in my eyes, for without it, everything else just falls flat. It’s when you’re reading a book that is perfect but boring. Currently my character is a flawed 18 year old girl. I don’t care if the dialogue is flawed because what 18 yo, let alone a 35 yo, speaks perfectly? I’m not speaking of a jumbled up mess with shitty editing. There is a delicate balance between allowing your character’s voice to shine alongside the author voice, without infringing upon it with the editor voice.
How many times do I write one sentence? Dozens- at least. By the time I get the ‘beta copy‘ back from the betas, I’ve already rewritten that sentence again once or twice. That is why I try to stress that I’m only looking for the things that are off, because everything else is never the same. I will use this mortifying example: Panty vs Pantry. Yes, Erica wrote Panty in place of Pantry, not once, butTWICE. Isis gained an evil (good?) twin named Iris two times as well. I had a sLiver tank top versus a siLver tank top. Suz and her ‘inequity’ had me imagining a bunch of lawyers sitting around a table in their den. Iniquity ;) Puts a whole new spin on a den of ‘inequity’, eh? My point being, what is more embarrassing: a missing comma or getting food out of your panties? While some lawyers are sexy, not all of them are. So I don’t think I’d enjoy a den of them, would you?
By the time I get the beta copies back, the odds that the words are shuffled around in the sentence and the punctuation has been fiddled with are about 100%. But the majority of the words remain the same. Those are the words my mind replaced on me. I become head-blind. This is why I need beta ‘readers’ to spot these words. I cannot stress this strongly enough. The editing is done ‘after‘ the beta ‘read’. Trust me; I know. I’ve been doing it for the past 13 days straight, twenty hours per day. (Hell, when was the last time I slept, anyway? I’m not joking. It’s 5 a.m. est, and I’ve yet to shut my eyes from the day before- I’m not writing or rewriting. All of my attention is solely focused on those dang rules- editing. I’ve learned my lesson from past horrors) Number one rule of writing: you NEVER edit while you write. You’ll get nowhere- FAST. It’s only good habits that keep your first three drafts from being a total disaster. There is a highly probable chance that those commas, periods, quote marks, ellipsis, and hyphens no longer exist. The betas receive a draft of many, not the final draft. It was one draft from being the gibberish in my head. That’s why I stress, “don’t over-think it.” Obviously I’m stressing this now for a reason ;) *maniacal laughter*
I found myself going word-for-word, nit-picking, worrying that I was doing it wrong, and I was leaving my character and myself behind. If you look at anything too closely, you’ll find fault in it. A sentence is a string of words with endless possibilities of rearrangement. My character spewed them onto the page, and it is my job to make sure they make sense for the reader. But it is not for me to twist their words until they are no longer ‘their’ words. Writing a sentence is not complicated, unless you complicate it with over-thinking. You are expressing a thought, and nothing more.
What is complicated are the rules of your language, which vary by country, and are all up to interpretation. Writing rules change, and we can debate them to death. Oxford Comma debate, anyone? Chicken/egg? Let’s debate grammar and punctuation until it’s just a string of words that no longer read like a story, shall we? But those rules must also take a backseat to an area’s dialect. I only write characters in the North East for a specific reason- that is my region, with my dialect. If you use rules and forgo the dialect. FLAT. While perfect, it will be perfectly flat.
I cannot even guess the amount of hours I put into Good Girl. Thousands upon thousands of hours- all my hours. So it will be up to me to know what is best for the quarter of a million words that were my creation. I’m sure when it’s completed it will be flawed, that if someone wishes to tear it to shreds for their own entertainment, they will find enough wrong to do so. But as I said, a sentence is a string of words with endless possibilities… string your own sentence together, and then have the balls to withstand an army of backseat ‘editors’ dissecting it. I bet you get the same amount of variants as you do editors. You have no idea the amount of courage it takes to press publish, and how much more courage it takes to ignore the negativity. A writer has to possess quiet dignity and suffer in silence.
Good Girl is a story about a young woman learning to love herself, to be comfortable in her own skin. I had an epiphany this evening as I was editing. Me, Myself, and I get along famously with the hundreds of characters thriving in our mind, so why am I allowing anyone to enter my sanctuary? You can debate my writing style, but you will never debate me about my writing style.
Back to those rules: I play by the rules for the most part or my novels would be impossible to read. Anyone who knows me personally, or knows my ‘voice, should have figured out by now that I do not like being told what to do or how to do it.
I’m a rebel, and I’m perfectly fine with being perfectly flawed.
The Wicked Writer.