On Editing Your Short Story Manuscript

This post is about my process for editing short story manuscripts.

BEFORE WE BEGIN…

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I’m not here to tell you how important it is to edit your short stories; I’m assuming that you’re a talented enough writer to know that you don’t shit rainbows of magical prose, and you’re surer than shit aren’t Jack Kerouac. So, a talented writer like yourself understands that you must edit.
So, we’ll skip the spiel about how dreadfully important editing is (don’t get me wrong, it’s the most fucking important part of writing, what am I saying? It IS writing), because the assumption is you already know that.
Right?

SO, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU GONNA TALK ABOUT?
Very good question. I’m here to talk with you about HOW we edit our short stories. Do you break apart every sentence, write them out on post it notes, and stick them chronologically across your tile floor? Do you lock yourself in the bathroom with a clipboard, your manuscript, a notebook, your laptop, and a stack of books, and work through the night scribbling on your manuscript sketching out scene placement for your complete rewrite?
I do those things.
Why do I do those things?
Because sometimes it takes weird shit to coax out the most brilliant facets of our diamond skulls. That’s the truth of the matter. We all do different things to connect with the ambiguous literary overseer: the muse.
But, it’s all true.
It’s not as simple as sitting down and writing (unless it is, and you know as well as I do the world is made up of exceptions to the rule). It’s about altering your mindset, giving into the gods by offering them human offal, and on the flip side, after all the hard, back beratingly laborious work is finished…
You do it again.

SO, J.O, WHAT OTHER CRAZY SHIT DO YOU DO TO COAX THE MUSE?
Don’t get your hopes up, it’s not as glamourous or earth quakingly eccentric as you’re expecting. It starts with the simplest step of the writing process: writing.
Yup. I cough up the first draft, print it out and put it inside my metal, UPS guy clipboard I bought online for the explicit purpose of manuscript editing.
I usually let some time pass. A few days, a week, I guess it all depends on the length of the work and how hard it was to draft out in the first place. But there’s ALWAYS some fermenting time. You know who taught me that? Cat Rambo. Greatest writing teacher that god ever gifted the collective of keyboard punchers.

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A manuscript* I recently finished.

I come back to my manuscript with fresh eyes, and start scribbling all over the pages.
“This is wrong. Cut this. What the fuck? You lazy piece of shit you just wrote ‘describe his gun here’ instead of describing it, asshole. Cut this whole page. Add this scene, that scene, and another scene. Change the ending. Change the beginning…”
The most important thing I do is reassess every scene, and make notes about how I want it rewritten, which you can see below how I mark up the side margins and number the scenes.
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THE REWRITE

 
The most interesting part about my writer’s mind, in my opinion, is how little I end up consulting the notes I made after the first draft.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s necessary to make the notes, it’s just not necessary to consult them during the rewrite, but once in a great while. For the most part, I have the layout in my head for how I want it rewritten, and I wouldn’t have had this concrete image had I not made the notes, so you understand how necessary they were.
After I have the rewrite printed out, it’s treated like a first draft. I mark it up, find what scenes need rewrites, which only need polishing, what opportunities did I miss to bring the reader into the protagonist’s head?

POLISHING
The polishing process is an unpredictable, excruciatingly painful, yet so fucking sweet, process. Is it done yet? Is it ready? No, of course It’s not ready fool! Yeah, it’s ready to submit, man! No, it’s not!
It’s at that point that I usually send it to my writing groups, mostly on OWW, which is a great community of speculative writers who always help to make my writing better.
While I wait for my writing groups to get back with me, I’ll usually start my next project. Work on a blog post, write notes to develop a short story idea, cry. Lots of crying in this here writer’s life.

SUBMITTING
The time has come for the most torturous yet rewarding part of the whole activity. You’ll simultaneously praise your brilliance as a writer, and condemn your writing to the pits of hell.
At this point, if I’m not deep into working on another project, I might quit writing entirely. The ol’ fuck-it-all attitude is the constant Goliath for all of us David’s.
The first thing I do is get on Duotrope and assemble a list of 5 publications I think my piece would fit well in. I format and submit my manuscript to the the #1 on that list, and wait. I use my preoccupation in my next project to get through the days of waiting, and automatically submit to the next magazine should I get a rejection.
If the story truly sucks, and nobody likes it at all, it won’t get accepted anywhere. By the time that conclusion can be made, I’ll already have another draft ready to submit that doesn’t suck and I can get excited about!
It’s a vicious cycle, but I’m in love with it all the same.

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CONCLUSION
Is your writing process similar to mine? Do you have to do fifteen naked jumping jacks in the shower before you can write weird westerns? Need three Boost nutritional drinks mixed with a finger of whiskey before you can write your seventh chapter? Let everyone know in the comments what it takes for you to get there. To access the mythical muse of old.

 

FOOTNOTES:
*The manuscript** used in the photos for this blog post are from a completed horror short story I wrote recently while in a Georgia hotel fleeing Hurricane Irma which threatened to pummel my central Florida home. It’s an interesting story, I enjoy it very much, but it has yet to be published. I’m still shopping it around. I’m even considering posting it on bums wear diamonds, but I’m not convinced there will be enough people interested in reading it. So, if you’re someone who likes free stories, click that follow button on the right side of your screen, and I’ll know you’re down for a free story (and you’ll be notified when It’s posted).
**The story itself has undergone a series of name changes, originally it was titled Pages Bound by Leather, but then I changed it to A Collection of Brief Noises. Now I think I’ll simplify it to simply, Brief Noises.

Author: jowenhilliard

I am a writer. The most immediate proof of this is in my blog, bums wear diamonds, which I create content for writer’s and reader’s alike. Professionally I’ve spent most of my life as a common laborer, handyman, and (best for last) a hydroponics farmer.

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