Why I Edit as I Write… Gaffes – did I really write that?

reallyThere’s an ongoing question authors ask each other about writing. “Do you edit as you write, or just write?” Me? I write, then edit, then edit, then write some more, then edit. Why? Because as I’m writing I have a tendency to add, or change things and I need to reread for consistency. It’s the way I self edit myself and it works for me.

The problem is, sometimes my issues have nothing to do with consistencies at all and have to do with gaffes. You know, those editing nightmares as you’re reading a book and the character in one paragraph is eating pancakes and two paragraphs later they’re staring into their cereal bowl? (this actually happened in book #4 in an extremely popular YA series that ended up being produced into 5 films. I’ll let you figure out which one – hint: think vampires…)

I had one of those gaffes in my new WIP and it was a doozy. My characters are in Egypt. There is an Englishman, an Italian, a Frenchman and an American in the bunch. I have my characters running from bad guys. The Englishman is saying all these sayings like gawd blimey, and bloody hell, and stuff (I was researching English phrases to get it right) and to get away from the bad guys, I have my people escape into the Underground. You know, the equivalent of the NYC subway system, but in London? I continued the chapter where they got off at their stop, queued up in line to get a taxi, and then were dropped off on a quaint country road.

Did you catch the gaffe yet? My characters are in Egypt, not London! Why in the world would they be in the Underground and what in the heck was I thinking as I wrote this chapter? I do remember thinking, “Wow, this is moving smoothly, the words are flowing easily.” Sure they were, because I WAS IN THE WRONG PLACE. When I reread what I wrote, because I always go back and reread what I did the session before, and noticed this, I stared at the screen in disbelief.

I love when I gaffe a description of a character as well. My protagonist stared into her boyfriend’s “beautiful amber eyes, flecked with yellow making them seem to sparkle and shine.” Nice, but the guy has blue-green eyes in book #1 of the series. Funny how in book #2 his eye color changed – and it wasn’t from contact lenses.

I know for a fact that I’m not the only author to experience something like this, so this week I asked authors Sara Barnard and Diane Rapp to chime in on this topic.

Question #1) Do you edit when you write, and why?

Sara Barnard: The more I write and the more I learn, the more I edit as I go. Not only does it save time when the manuscript goes to my totally awesome editor, but it has become habit. I like to think it makes me a better, more efficient, scribe. Writing a sentence or a paragraph then going back through and quickly reading, looking for errors or omissions helps keep me on track, too. But as a lesson, I also let it sit before sending it in and read through it at least one more time. It’s amazing the mistakes you’ll find when you let it rest then go back to it later.

Diane: I’m a “stream of consciousness writer.” I think about a scene and how the characters interact before I fall asleep each night, and my subconscious works on it. When I’m ready to write the scene, I type as fast as my fingers will move to put it into the computer.

After I write the newest scene, I wait a day and read through everything with a critical eye. At that point then the editing process starts. The first draft of the book is flexible, so I make changes and fix problems along the way. Sometimes I redo a scene three or four times until I’m satisfied, at other times I’m surprised that I already like what I created. It’s that sneaky subconscious doing a good job.

After the first draft of the book is complete, I reread everything straight through. That’s when I hope to spot inconsistencies and major errors. I also take time to check a thesaurus for more effective words. The third time through, I concentrate on punctuation, grammar, and incorrect words. This is the most boring part of the editing process, so I find myself daydreaming. I can’t count how many times I speed along, enjoying my own narrative, when I realize I’ve stopped paying attention to editing.

Question #2) What is the most major gaffe you found editing?

Sara: I’ve found numerous mistakes in my self-edits. One was in A HEART ON HOLD … Charlotte’s horse, Achilles, was written to be a gelding. Well, later, I had him as a stallion. That may not seem like much, but it was certainly important to Achilles! In my forthcoming Amish romance Rebekah’s Quilt, I had my heroine’s little brothers named something different in almost every chapter!

Diane: My worst mistake was using the wrong name for my heroine in a full chapter of a first draft. It was understandable. I just finished writing a Mystery with a heroine named Kayla, and the character in the new Science/Fantasy is named Krystal. My brain got mixed up, or maybe it was my fingers. Suddenly Kayla appeared on the planet Drako to confront an evil villain. The worst part was that I didn’t notice the error at first. One of my Beta readers sent me an e-mail asking, “Who is Kayla?” She had not read my mystery, so she didn’t understand the mistake. I was so embarrassed. At that point I realized many of my characters had similar sounding names. I reconsidered the character names and made major changes. I discovered that characters behaved differently after I changed their names. It’s true. I got in a few arguments with those characters, but they won in the end. Darn!

Ladies, thank you both so much! I think everyone can relate to the gaffes above – I know I do! I think I’ve done all of them at one point or another, as well.

If you’d like to learn more about Sara and Diane, please check out their links below:

Sara is the mother of four small children and wife to an awesome and supportive husband. Now that her husband is out of the Army and she is done following him around to various military bases around the world, they’ve settled down in their shared hometown in west Texas. Sara’s debut historical romance series, An Everlasting Heart, consists of four books: bestseller and 2012 RONE award finalist for Best American Historical Fiction A Heart on Hold, A Heart Broken, A Heart at Home, and the forthcoming final book in the series A Heart Forever Wild. Her debut Amish historical romance, Rebekah’s Quilt, will be released November 16th, 2013. All of these are from 5 Prince Publishing. Sara also writes children’s books: Chunky Sugars was her debut children’s book from 5 Prince Kids, with Little Spoon coming in September 2013. Sara independently publishes a nonfiction children’s line as well, all of which have remained on Amazon’s bestseller lists since being released. Those titles are: The ABC’s of Oklahoma Plants, The ABC’s of Texas Plants, and The Big Bad Wolf Really Isn’t So Big and Bad. She can be reached at twitter at @TheSaraBarnard, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sarabarnardbooks, her website at http://www.sarabarnardbooks.com and lastly, her blog at sarathreesuns.BlogSpot.com

Diane Rapp is a split-personality author, who writes a Mystery series and a Science/Fantasy series. She particularly enjoys works by Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Agatha Christie, and Arthur Conan Doyle. As an animal lover, she always includes animals such as telepathic wolves, flying dragons, or poison dart frogs (as a murder weapon) in her novels. For more information about both series, visit her website at http://www.quicksilvernovels.com. You can also reach her at her author’s FB page at: http://www.facebook.com/quicksilvernovels and on twitter at @DianeRapp

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22 thoughts on “Why I Edit as I Write… Gaffes – did I really write that?

  1. I found myself falling into that habit a while back and I realized that I was getting stuck at certain points because I had become more obsessed with the quality of each sentence rather than getting the story written. Once I relearned how to write first and edit later, I found that I made more progress in the story. Your mileage may vary as the saying goes but write first and edit later has worked very well for me.

  2. I avoid editing while I write as the plague. In my opinion, it stops the flow and it can lead to a lot of writer’s block. But that’s just my opinion. I know that some people like writing and editing at the same time. It’s fine, but I think it is wrong since it doesn’t work for me. Writing should be a natural process, not to be interrupted with constant editing.

    • I hear you – it’s just that with me doing sci/fi and rules, I’ll add something in the book and then realize I must fix it earlier so the rules apply – but it’s a quick process for me – but yes, I hear this side too. Whatever works, right? 🙂

  3. I agree with Cinta, but that doesn’t mean I am able to follow my own advice. If I sit down at the computer and just let the story flow, it comes naturally. If I see misspelled words, or grammar issues, and get caught up with the editing, I lose my train of thought. What I try to do now, is set a goal for so many words per day, and force myself not to edit, just type. First thing the following morning, I do a quick edit.

  4. I tend to write, and then edit repeatedly. With every edit, I catch some repetitions, inconsistencies, and things I need to clear up or research since I am in a specific historical/geographic setting. Still, despite all of that, my big gaffe of the third book in my series, which was missed by no less than three of us proofreading, was a character saying an early bedtime would make it easier to wake up the next morning and watch the sunset. Argh!!

  5. I definitely edit for gaffes as I write each day (either at the end or beginning of a session) but I try to do little else in terms of editing. Otherwise, I get caught up in the mundane instead of keeping my eye on the big picture. I learned I needed to check for gaffes after I gave early copies of my first book to Beta readers and in the middle of TWO extremely steamy scenes I had replaced the hero’s name with the antagonist’s name. OOPS! It was not only confusing for the reader, it really killed the “action” that was written. 😉

  6. I wrote “you’re” instead of “your” on my blog post today! Thank goodness I fixed it before tweeting the link. I was ready to hide under the bed from embarrassment.

  7. What an interesting post (and comments): there are so many different ways of writing and catching the gaffes. I’m new to writing, but so far the process that works best for me is to park my left brain editor (who can flip into a critic far too quickly – smile) and let the words pour out. After the writing session is over, my left brain gets her turn. That is when I create “cheat sheets” with various details that I’ll need to remember in order to avoid gaffes (but man, are they hard to avoid – lol!)

    • Thank you – from all the comments, I sometimes wonder if I’m editing too much – but it’s how I’ve always written – I reread so I know what the heck I just added and wrote – but maybe I should just write and a few DAYS later go back! LOL – thanks so much for commenting.

  8. Rebekah writes the first draft, I go through it and make suggestions, then she makes changes, rewrites, chapter organization etc. Afterwards we both go through it for spelliing, grammer then it goes to BETA readers each of whom have a special area of expertise and finally ends up at the editor.

  9. I edit minor spelling and grammar things as I write, but I mostly get the whole book finished. The second time through is when I change major issues and catch the gaffes. Then I send it off to my editors.

  10. I do the same thing. 1) Write 2) Edit and re-read, 3) Write more, 4) read aloud… 5) Edit as I read aloud, 6) Write more 7) Re-read and re-edit… LOL Unending process! Those gaffes in film making are called jump cuts… but same deal. SCARY!!

  11. Oh my dear! Now I am thinking I’d better run back through my book and other pieces again just to be sure I haven’t committed a gaffe! Ha ha! Thank goodness for professional editors, and let’s hope they capture these mistakes! LOL

  12. My perfect sequence is to edit yesterdays work over breakfast and then write the new stuff ready for tomorrow. Sadly, real-life often interferes with the flow. I definitely now edit much more as I go.

  13. Interesting divided view. Having spent my life on a drawing board where ‘editing’ was a minute by minute operation or ‘it won’t work’ I write in vast chunks – 1000,000 words at a shot, or even a whole book (450,000) in order to keep ‘my people’ cantering in front of me to ‘lead me on’ (no damned plots to kill the adventure). I build quick ‘chapter (13,000 words+) synopses’ as I go to keep the action in my head and to, much later, check continuity. For the present Bk (2nd in The Golden Path) of 850,000 this works well BUT I re-write many times to make sure all the elements of euphonious prose, with no ‘flowblocks’ and trips, are present, everything superfluous ruthlessly excised. I am lucky as I ‘love’ my people and am passionate about fine prose so the whole process is a delight.

    No great author of the past employed and Editor, they were literate, and educated far beyond the standard of today so took enormous pains with what they wrote – Raleigh in The Tower, Bacon, Bunyan in Bedford gaol, Johnson, Addison, Steele, Macaulay, Scott, Austen, Buchan, the list is long – tough call I know but in ‘How I write Romance’ (free) I maintain that if you can not turn out fine prose you are cheating your readers – no ‘editor’ turns out fine prose! Good health to all who try.

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