What I Learned From Editing

Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear. — Patricia Fuller 

What have I learned from editing both a novel and poetry? They aren’t as far apart as I thought. I learn from editing poetry how to make novel sentences more succinct and to punch up the imagery. From editing novels I learn to look at the big picture of a poem and how to decide whether to cut or expand to enhance meaning. 

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book. 
— Friedrich Nietzsche

Poetry editing may take two, twelve, or twenty passes. (At least for me) The novel can take 100. They need what they need, but poetry tends toward more instant gratification. Editing a novel can make despair set in. Will this furshlugginer thing ever be done? As with poetry, eventually, you have to abandon your work and declare it done. Continual editing is counterproductive. That way lies madness. 

The writing itself is no big deal. The editing, and even more than that, the self-doubt, is excruciatingly impossible. 
— Jonathan Safran Foer

I like editing, smoothing out the big, glorious mess that’s a novel, or paring down a poem to the essentials. Hopefully, I don’t wind up with haiku, because haiku have their own baggage to contend with. On rare occasions, the prose needs to be added to instead of cut. When I go into editing swinging an ax, I can overlook spots where more is better. Problem nail, meet hammer.

“Editing. It’s like dieting; except a lot more violent.” 
― Leya Delray 

Poetry and novel writing both share the same problem. In editing too much, the freshness evaporates into a saggy old balloon. I think it’s true you need to put new writing away for a while to look at it with new eyes, untainted by the story you had in your head. Poems, from anywhere from a week to a month. Novels for a month or more. But writers are impatient. We want to see our poetry in print as fast as possible. Ditto novels. 

While writing is like a joyful release, editing is a prison where the bars are my former intentions and the abusive warden my own neuroticism. 
— Tiffany Madison

I don’t write or edit to music. I’ve done it before, but even 10 years on I can still hear the piece of music I wrote a certain scene to playing in my head. After 10 years, I still hear every word and guitar riff, and I can’t write a similar scene without the piano refrain rearing its head. (Correction, my music is the chirp of birds outside my window. I even recorded 10 minutes of it and looped the redwing song into an hour-long feather-filled backdrop for writing.)

I am one of those strange writers who can actually derive pleasure from the editing process. 
— Cindy Matthews

However you edit, dive into it with open eyes — and a glass full of your motivator of choice. Novels, poetry, the rambling essay, they all benefit from a good nap before you edit your way to success. How do you like to edit? 

Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain. There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred pages are there. Only you don't see them.
— Elie Wiesel

Other Essays on Editing

Pulling Words Apart to Smash Writing Together

Revising 101 (Housekeeping)

Advice Paralysis

Author Places to Learn About Editing

Nathan Bransford Blog

Holly Lisle Articles

Janice Hardy’s Fiction University

Using Weaving for Bursts of Writing Creativity

It’s been a few months of frantic creativity – both with writing and a favorite hobby, weaving. In the past few months, I’ve woven 12 regular towels, 2 kitchen towels, 4 hand towels, 2 washcloths, 1 shawl, and 4 scarves, with the 5th on the loom. Oh, and made 24 bars of soap. The towels needed accompaniment. (No, not the Zombie Apocalypse, just holiday presents.)

Weaving - Woven Towels
Sets of regular cotton towels

Why this frantic activity? I finished the outline of the Sequel Fantasy Novel, wrote the first several chapters, and paused, needed to parse out what the outline said next. My usual method is to read the outline, ponder the scenes, then write and refine them in my head. The best way I found to do that is while doing something else. Some people use music or jogging. I use weaving (and knitting). I find the repetition soothing, especially the back and forth of the shuttle between the yarns. 

Weaving - Kitchen towels
Cotton Kitchen towels in fall colors

Off the Loom (Brain)

Weaving is kind of mathematical in nature and the orderly arrangement of calculating warp and weft is much like outlining a story. Once warped on the loom, all that’s left is to weave so many inches until it comes to the designated stopping place. The same with the scenes I write in my head. Once the weaving is done, I hemstitch the ends or make fringes and remove the item from the loom. Once done working out the scene, I remove it from my head to paper. Then start all over again. 

Weaving - 4 scarves
Tweed scarf, windowpane wool scarf, milk-protein scarf with Brooks Bouquet lace, wool and silk scarf.

It’s been a great method for me. Warping the loom involves a lot of walking back and forth from loom to warp peg to loom, sometimes for 220 strands of yarn for each item. (My Fitbit loves this.) It’s all very meditative, including the part where I separate double strands into singles and slot them through the holes in the reed. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to remember all the weaving lingo, there is no test at the end.)

Woven Shawl
Summer shawl, cotton and Tencel

Since my mind is ordinarily moving at warp speed on different things, the meditative rhythm and silence slow it to a gentle hum. When I feel the need to throw rocks at a character, I just look for the mistakes in my work. Because there will be mistakes. Such as warping 200 slots and missing one in the middle. But it’s fixable, just like the writing is fixable if I ponder long enough. What other ways have you come up with to work on your writing while not actually writing? 

Rigid Heddle Loom
Image from Weft Blown

Weaving Terms for the Curious

Fringe = A fringe is an ornamental appendage to the border of an item, twisted or left loose. It is the ends of the warp, projecting beyond the woven fabric.

Hemstitch = The hemstitch is an ornamental thread work technique to finish the ends of the woven item, just like you would hem the edges of clothing.

Reed/Heddle = The comb-like device that holds and separates the warp threads. It has slots and eyes/holes which allow every second warp thread to move up and down and create the shed. It is also used to beat the weft into place.

Warp = the threads going lengthwise

Weft = the threads woven across the warp threads

Shed = the space between the warp threads when the reed is up or down

Shuttle = yarn is wound onto the shuttle. The shuttle carries the yarn through the weaving

More Posts on Writing and Thinking

A Meditation on Walking and Writing

The Value of Silence in an Uncertain World

This is Your Brain on Writing

Some Links on Weaving

Need some looms? Mine are all Schacht. I have a Flip Loom, a Cricket Loom, and Inkle Loom, and I’m eyeballing a Tapestry Loom.

Things you can weave with a rigid heddle loom (Pinterest)

Everything about rigid heddle looms in one place. Gist Yarn

Writing in Dual POVs (or more)

I’ve always loved Dual Point of View (POV) stories. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because that’s the way my favorite authors wrote. I have no problem switching characters, I can hold them and their storylines in my head readily. I thought everyone did this until I found out from another reader that they hated multiple POVs because their brain didn’t switch gears very well. They wanted a linear storyline.


That made me take a few steps back. I’m not a fan of first-person novels. I don’t like the intimacy. I don’t like the singular POV keeping me from knowing more. Is this how people react to multiple POVs? With exasperation? As much as I hate being trapped in a first-person POV, do they hate being trapped with multiple character’s thoughts? Let’s not even talk of alternating First Person and Third Person novels. The stuff of nightmares.

Digging Deeper

Dual and multiple POVs satisfy the need inside me to examine a story and its characters from different angles. How a character visualizes herself versus how another character sees her. The dawning realization of a character finding out the world might not revolve around them. Other people have problems, too. I like getting deep knowledge from more than one person. Everyone has secrets and it’s interesting knowing what one person is keeping from another and why. I think I’m a frustrated psychologist at heart. 

Even though I write multiple POVs, I have a primary protagonist. Their POV is the one I most readily identify with. The other POVs are the ones trying to understand the protagonist and help/hinder them. In one novel I also have the antagonist as a third POV but with less page time. My favorite writers often had far more POVs. Yes, I admit to being frustrated at times when a chapter ended and we flipped to another POV—but only because the previous chapter stopped at an exciting place. It forced me not to gulp down novels like candy. I had to learn to savor one chapter at a time. 

Ditching the Daily Grind

I used to be one of those people who slogged through a novel to the bitter end, no matter what. Now I allow myself to say it isn’t working for me and stop reading. I’m better at analyzing what made me stop reading. Since a tremendous amount of current novels are written in First Person, I know part of my problem. They are too intimate and make me uncomfortable. I dislike First Person multiple POVs even more. It’s like torture. I like the distance Third Person novels offer me, even deep third POV. Could be a neurodivergent thing. 

Maybe that’s why I like switching gears for another POV. It gives my brain a break and time to reset from its usual squirrel mode. I tried writing my latest fantasy in First Person and had to retool after three chapters. It didn’t work for me. I’m trying again with the idea for a new fantasy/superhero novel, where a First-Person POV makes sense because the whole story can be told from her POV. (I think) 

This essay has all been from my biased POV. Your Mileage May Vary. What’s your preferred voice for reading? Do you actively seek out books in that preferred voice? Or do you read whatever the wind blows your way, and deal with it?

A Meditation on Walking and Writing

The good thing about going to college was it introduced me to a lot of new ideas. I latched on to philosophy that first year and stuck with it through classes I knew nothing about but opened my eyes to experience new things. After Buddhism 101, I tried for a long time to sit still, meditate, and empty my mind. It never worked. My mind is its own special blend of ADD, PTSD, and flights of fancy. Sitting still was dangerous. Sitting was non-productive. Then my college philosophy teacher introduced me to walking meditation. 

Philosophy for the win

The philosophy department offices were in a back building on a little-used side of the campus. The building echoed when you walked around. The professors shut themselves up in their offices and read or graded, or stared at the walls. (I assumed) It was the perfect place to learn walking meditation. The upstairs hall was maybe 50 feet long. Just long enough to get into the groove before the wall triggered you to turn around and start again. 50 feet for me to concentrate on the feel of tile under my sneakers, the stretch of muscles in the back of my legs. The curiously loud sound of my breathing. 

My arms hung like bricks at my side, moving very little with each step. At first, I chanted in my head, “I’m walking down the hall, I’m walking down the hall. Left, right, left, right.” Each time my squirrel brain skittered off I reminded it I was walking down the hall. Repeat a word or phrase often enough and it becomes meaningless. White noise. Eventually, I graduated to walking around the courtyard of the building. More distractions outside for squirrel brain, but even those faded until the breeze on my face and grass under my feet became the new normal. 

Expanding horizons

Outside of school, I learned to walk in a circle around the tiny backyard of the townhouse I rented. Circles were good, walking back and forth in the hall made my turns more conscious, more military-like than I wanted. A circle, now there was my meditation home. Slow, steady walking, each step mindful, each breath relaxed. I became aware of how my heel struck the ground first, harder than my toes. 

Walking on dirt, I applied that knowledge to my footsteps in the soft ground then observed other people’s footprints and how deep the heels or toes went. Walking meditation improved my connection with nature when I went to the woods. I was aware of each step, I made less noise, which in turn let me see more wildlife. It also helped me stand still and observe without impatience. 

What’s this have to do with writing?

This is the way I approach writing, walking an idea or scene around and around in my brain until I circle in on what’s right, what matters. I’m more mindful. It’s my non-corporeal walking editing. Sitting still never gave me the images that flow through my head when I walk without a specific purpose. The good thing? The crow in me ceased to look for the next shiny object.

Now, when I feel my brain winding up to scatter, I walk back and forth, even the act of circling the living room is calming if I do it mindfully. The cat, of course, thinks I’m nuts and lounges in his window perch, watching and silently judging. As long as I don’t judge myself, I’m okay with that. He disappears into the background as I circle the room, carpet underfoot, stretch of muscle in my calf and thigh, breath lighter with each circuit. The illusion of progressive movement was all I needed to let meditation into my life and writing.

Other Essays on Writing:

Staying Afloat in a Writing Ocean

This is Your Brain on Writing

Digging Weeds from the Story Garden

Outside Links on Walking Meditation:

Instructions for Walking Meditation

Walking Meditation

How to do Walking Meditation

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