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Friday, July 04, 2008

Managing the Edit Muse in Fiction

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

The edit muse is that internal instinct that makes you want to stop and evaluate everything you write to make sure it is worthy before you go on. It's the perfectionist coming out in some of us. Writing a novel is a process that isn't done overnight. You have to work on one scene at a time. It's a building block of words that need to be cut, rearranged, and replaced. Because the process is so long, reworking the same chapters can be a huge temptation.

While the edit muse can be a blessing to some, ensuring that we turn in a clean and polished manuscript to our editors, it can be a curse to others. If you keep reworking the same chapters, you will never finish the novel. You need to move on to the next stage of the book and come back to it later when you've finished the first draft. But how do you do this when you know that what you've written isn't as good as you can make it?

It's like any other temptation, remove it from your sight.

If possible, don't read over it again. Reading it may tempt you to edit what you read and you'll waste time reworking the same material rather than writing something new.

If you are the type that must read the last section of what you wrote to continue moving forward, then don't read the whole chapter. Read only the last scene or the last few paragraphs of the last scene. You only need to read enough to refresh your memory and get back into the story so your writing muse can take over your edit muse. This will open up your creative ideas and imagination to write new material.

If you are in critique group or receive feedback from a contest entry, don't even open up the files. Create a folder for these critiqued chapters and drop them into that folder. Keep writing. Don't stop to read through what your critique partners have said about your work. Criticism is hard to take regardless of how well we know and trust our critique partners, and it can effect or stifle your creative writing muse.

Wait until you've finished writing the first draft of the whole manuscript to read through critiques. The only exception to this rule is the first three chapters. I have two reasons for this. 1) You may want to submit some of your work to a contest and only the first three chapters or less are usually required. 2) It takes the first three chapters to really get to know your characters well, and to get a feel for how the story should be told.

If you are the type of person that will be tempted to read through your manuscript as soon as you open the file rather than just scrolling down to where you left off, then I have a few other suggestions for you.

1. Create a new file for each chapter and merge them together in one file after you finish writing the manuscript. This will help you have your material ready for your critique group, since most groups only submit one chapter at a time.

2. Write your new material on a different computer, such as a laptop, or borrow your spouse's desktop computer. If you don't see the file, you can't open it and be tempted to edit it before you've written anything new.

3. Invest in an Alpha Smart where you can create new files each time you write a new scene. This way you only see a small window of your typed words. It's too inconvenient to scroll up and down to revise what you've written. It will force you to keep writing new sentences. When you finish, download the files right into a Word document on your computer or into your original file.

The key to managing the edit muse, is to avoid the temptation of seeing what you've already written.


Great advice Jennifer! I love using my Alphasmart. I have been able to write a lot more with out being distracted by the internet. :)

Thanks for posting this to your blog, Jennifer. I'm a perfectionist, and constantly want to edit, doubting if my writing is as it should be. But you are right. There comes a point where one must stop and set the manuscript aside.

Thanks again for the reminder to manage our edit muse.