Samurai Editing

It’s said that a good editor is like a samurai. Proficient with both the pen and the sword, he—can’t really call a samurai “she,” can I?—slices with precision, but without hesitation. And slicing is the first step in editing your manuscript.

Just like with pushing a car, those first few steps are the hardest. You’re concentrating on overcoming inertia, and steering is more than you can accomplish. Once you’ve got the thing moving, though, you glide along thinking, “this isn’t so hard!” and steering gracefully around the corner and into the parking spot you’ve been eyeing.

Is it any wonder, then, that those first few pages (or chapters) of manuscript might not be the ones that make for a polished book?

One author admitted he knew he was wordy in the beginning of his book. At the time, he told me, he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to write enough words to make a novel. Boy, was he surprised! His novel ended up well over 500 pages.

Another writer worked her way up to her story by introducing every character at length, showing them getting up in the morning, putting on socks, having breakfast… She realized later that a good story starts just before the action, and she knows that those deleted pages were valuable because they helped her get to know the characters, so she could describe them well for the reader.

Use those first few thousand words to get momentum. Work out who the characters are; let them have their say about it. Get yourself convinced that you can, in fact, fill up page after page with words. Then, when you’ve written something that really works, don’t be afraid to trim the scraps away.

For more on trimming, check out The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman.