by Kitty Felde

Some say the greatest joy of writing is that feeling of being in the flow, creating that first draft. Words fly across the page, almost by magic. Characters come to life, dialogue sparkles, telling details come instantly to mind.

And then you’re left with a mess.

I’ve been wrestling with the third book in my Fina Mendoza Mysteries series called “Snake in the Grass.” It’s about partisanship on Capitol Hill, as seen through the eyes of the 10-year-old daughter of a congressman. I pounded out 207 pages, printed it out, and stared at a catastrophe. There was no structure, entire plot lines were missing, I had no ending. Catastrophe.

After a few weeks of hanging my head, I was brave enough to face the other half of writing: editing. It’s the chance to fix what once went wrong.

But how?

Writers have lots of techniques.

Some use color-coded index cards that they can shuffle around.

One memoir scribbler is a big believer in post-it notes. She covers an entire wall in her office with post-its in pink and white and blue and every other color under the sun. She creates a notebook with smaller post-its that’s a duplicate of her plot wall. And then she moves things around.

I’ve tried index cards. They’re just not my thing. Post-it notes? No, thank you. Number one, I don’t have a large enough blank wall. Number two, I’d live in fear that a gust of wind would turn my carefully crafted plot into an even more jumbled mess than it is now.

Some writers edit in Scrivner. But those little pretend index cards are too small for my bad eyes to read.

Some playwrights read the manuscript aloud, or invite a roomful of actors to informally read the play. It’s a great way to catch sentences that don’t sing or missing words or clunky dialogue. I find that it doesn’t work as well with prose – work with less dialogue and more description.

Some brave souls edit directly onto the manuscript, uploaded into the G drive. This panics me for a different reason: what if I accidentally delete a scene? Or change my mind about an edit I made yesterday. What if I fail to label it properly and end up re-editing an earlier version? Or, as was the case yesterday, can’t find it at all?

screenshot of edited manuscript by Kitty Felde

I’m a paper person. With apologies to the trees, I think better when there’s a printed copy of my manuscript in front of me. I love using a red pen. (Or, in the case of a second pass through, a blue pen.) Somehow, seeing those scribbled pages is tangible proof to myself that I have indeed been working on my book. And like hearing it aloud, you perceive your work differently than when it’s on a computer screen.

But that’s just my first step. A stack of scribbled up printed pages doesn’t solve my plot problems.

I’ve settled on using a legal pad, making a list of the scenes in the order I have now. I can move them around with just my pen, drawing a long, curved arrow to indicate that scene five now should reside after scene seven. I can draw a line through scene 21, which has always been a problem child.

Next, it’s back to the original document to make the changes, print it out, and start all over again.

That’s where I am today with this project, round two. I suppose I’m paying the price for all of that creative joy I felt at the beginning of the project.

I bribe myself to go on and finish the darned thing by dangling a very nice carrot out in front of my nose: as soon as I’m done, I can start a new project and return to that magic time when words fly across the page and characters have some very definite things to say.

How do you edit?

Kitty Felde is an award-winning playwright and author of the Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books and podcasts, designed to introduce civics education to kids.

About Kitty Felde

Award-winning public radio journalist, writer, and TEDx speaker Kitty Felde hosts the Book Club for Kids podcast, named by The Times of London as one of the top 10 kidcasts in the world. The Los Angeles native created the Washington bureau for Southern California Public Radio and covered Capitol Hill for nearly a decade, explaining how government works to grownups. Now she explains it to kids in a series of mystery novels and podcasts called The Fina Mendoza Mysteries. Kitty was named LA Radio Journalist of the Year three times by the LA Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.

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