Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Philosophy of Editing (aka Hocs and Locs)

Happy Sunday!
'Tis time for the bi-weekly update, and today I find my thoughts focusing on editing. I have a monster editing project at hand, in addition to having recently hung out my shingle for freelance work. Needless to say, in addition to my own writing duties and this thing I have called a daily life, editing has moved further up the queue in importance. So I dusted off some of my old materials from back in my teaching days, when editing was one of the last steps I taught a class. Of course, I taught non-fiction writing, but it surprises me how well those old lessons apply to fiction.

Before I start, have some music to listen to this Sunday morning! (Or whenever you happen to be joining us.) Editing manuscripts has somehow gained the reputation of being as much fun as doing calculus with your hair on fire, when really it can be quite painless. Bearing this in mind, here are three songs from Rough Trade Records, an independent label that just signed the amazing Alabama Shakes. So kick off your shoes, have a cup of coffee (or tea, if you must). The first one, Billie Holiday, an ethereal tribute to "My Girl," is my current favorite:

Ok then.
I found over many years of teaching that focusing on grammar and typos in a manuscript is the worst thing you can do. Don't get me wrong- these things are important. You can't ignore them. But what we've found is that the act of writing itself has layers of varying importance. Spelling and typos rank near the very bottom in importance as far as editing goes. What's most important then? It's simple, really: the biggest concerns, the foundation of your writing, is the most profitable thing on which to focus. Here's what gets me really excited about the subject:

When we focus on the larger concerns in our manuscripts, the smaller ones tend to disappear. Like magic, right? ;)

Ok, not like magic, but the basic principle is sound. If the foundation isn't solid, no amount of detail will save the house. That's kind of obvious. But what's so fascinating to me is that by focusing on the plot, issues with pacing, characterization and the like, many of your grammatical snafus and misspellings will disappear on their own. It's as if these Lowers Order Concerns, or Locs, are symptoms of bad writing rather than the cause. Fix the Higher Order Concerns, or Hocs, and the Locs often go away. Not totally, and there is no way to get out of proofreading, but they will at the very least shrink a bit.

Conversely, you can also look at a section riddled with Locs as a signal flag for deeper concerns. Odds are, if there's a section with lots of misspelling, passive voice, and unnecessary tense shifts, something bigger is going on. Try ignoring the Locs and plug the section back into your overall plan: are the characters not being themselves? Perhaps the whole thing doesn't relate to your meta-plot, and needs serious cutting. Maybe you need to go all the way back to freewriting, brainstorming, or whatever discovery process works for you.

In a nutshell: Hocs before Locs, everytime.
For more information about what exactly constitutes a Hoc and a Loc, check out Purdue University's Online Writing Lab, or OWL, (slathering on the acronyms today, aren't I?) It's one of the best writing resources out there, bearing in mind it's set up largely for academic non-fiction. It's an engaging site,  and if you think of things like "thesis" as your main message or central polt, then it's easy to transfer these ideas to fiction.

And now for the ROW80 report:
1. Word count for this week: roughly 3,000. Making good progress towards publisher's deadlines and my own, indie-pub ones too.
2. Number of pages edited: 600ish?
3. Blogging: missed on Wednesday but did my epic Blood Redemption reveal on Monday. It's the last blog entry if you're a fan of the series and missed it.
4. Reading: In this case, I'm going to count the editing as reading. Perhaps that's cheating a bit, but you do have to read the book before you can edit, right?
5. What else? Marketing/ the business of books? I got a press release this week! Crazy, huh? Check it out here, and my author page is up at Curiosity Quills. Also, on Nov. 30th, I'm going to be one of the "drafting titles" for The Indie Book Collective's Bestseller for a Day. (Or the IBC's BFAD, to continue with the acronym trope.)

I think that's everything. I always have that feeling like I'm forgetting something important when I make these updates. Grr! Oh well. I often have that feeling in all areas of my life. Oh, wait, we dodged another tornado this week, but only just. An F2 long track touched down 1/4 mile from my home. So many of our neighbors were without power, and lost roofs and cars and such. We sustained no damage, thank goodness, except to my sanity when I looked out the back window and saw a fallen-leaf shaped funnel cloud in my own back yard. It was the rotating winds, not the actual tornado. Still, this whole storm business is getting ridiculous. I do not, supposedly, live in the tornado belt, but the weather seems to have forgotten this. As we head into Thanksgiving, I hope those who celebrate it have a great food, fun, family and friends filled weekend. If you don't celebrate, I hope you have all those things anyway! Until next time, V


  1. Nice job on your goals this week! Glad you're keeping up even with all the exciting and new things happening in your world. Will have to check out Bestseller for a Day. Have a great week!

  2. Fantastic philosophy! Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Thanks, Lauren! And nanny- it works for me!

  4. Great philosophy and tips! Great progress as well. Best wishes on your ROW80 goals!

  5. I forget how nice it is to read about shop-talk. :) I will soon be looking at some HOCs myself, so it's good to keep that philosophy in mind.

    Good luck!

  6. Good morning, Vickie! Thanks for the editing post - I'm not bad at basic proofing, but being a beta reader is the closest I've come to editing - er, yes, that's because my wip still isn't done! The red flag view of Loc-riddled passages is a great tip, both for my own stuff and anyone I read for!!

    On the mother nature front, I gotta ask - what the heck??? I live in MN, but you've had waaaayyy more violent storms than I have this year!! On the other hand, you are obvious proof that it is survivable. Good concept for a non fiction book, actually!

    Take care, an thanks again for the fun and informative post!

  7. Thanks, Julie! You too!
    Shari- I ask myself the same thing after every single storm. It's absolutely crazy- weshould be worried about hurricanes, not tornadoes. The best I can figure is what a friend told me- due to crazy weather patterns, the tornado belt has shifted east. It might make a book after all, thanks for the heads-up! "My Year in Oz," or some such.
    @Kate- yeah, I miss shop talk too.
    Good luck with those Hocs, everybody!

  8. good philosophy - liked your press release - need to do one for myself so it is very interesting to see how its done

    I'm sorry to hear of your weather fingers crossed we dont really have winds like that here in UK but weather is changing so much who can say what will happen in a few years

    keep smiling and all the best for coming week

  9. thanks Alberta! Hope the UK escapes the bad weather!