Editing. Something that pisses me off about my English education is that none of the teachers in my creative writing courses had any intention to teach me how to edit. Maybe I had bad teachers. Maybe the policy was “Workshop…and see magic may happen!” Maybe the instructors assumed that all we needed to know about editing, we learned in literature classes. After all, in literature classes, we learned how to analyze stuff. And that’s all you really need to edit, right? Knowing how to analyze character, point-of-view, style, etc., etc.
Bullshit. None of that teaches you how to edit. All it teaches you how to do is describe to other people why it is your stuff sucks. I know that writing is something you have to learn how to do on your own…to some extent. But if it weren’t possible to teach writing, at least the basics, why are their classes? Are “creative writing” courses a con job?
Editing. For me, the first step is breaking down the story into something called beats. You know where I learned to do this? Script analysis, drama. A beat is a small piece of the work that has its own beginning, middle, and ending. Its own mini-plot. Its own goals. For a pop-culture illustration, take the movie Swordfish. From the beginning of the movie to the moment when John Travolta leaves the cafe, that’s a beat. You can break that beat down into smaller parts, but essentially that’s it.
For me the process of editing begins, like I said, with beats. I break the story down into its component beats, read each beat separately, and see what I can do to make each beat stand on its own. Basic stuff. Usually by the time I get done with the beats, I’ve managed to include most of the other changes that I wanted to make. So I lied. My editing process actually begins with doing the literary-analysis thing. And before that, I get feedback from my excellent spouse. But when I sit down to write, I start with the beats.
I once took a community-college writing class (in Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, blah blah blah) from a grad student in the Creative Writing program. I’d been looking forward to, someday, working my ass off with the intention of getting in. The instructor/grad student made fun of me for actually analyzing the work.
We moved to Colorado Springs. Big cry.