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So straight to it, I don't write very long pieces. Usually poetry or flash fiction and a smattering of short stories whenever it needs to be longer, though I have aspirations (mostly just dreams) of expanding these to more industry accessible (profitable) media. What I find is that at this length the line between authoring the piece and reading it is hard to define (especially since you are doing both) and the metaphorical, literary screws are really tightened so you can see the stress fractures in a piece. What I mean is you are very aware of how it is going to read and whether it sounds like you want it to on the page. I'm not doing a good job of this, example.

The hallway sounds of bells with each door closing.

Sounds great, right? Suggestive, short, and sweet. But, after some thought I've realized it isn't the right tense in the piece.

The hallway sounded of bells as each door closed.

Which, also isn't bad, but sounds different with the extra syllable mucking up the rhythm and hard consonants stomping around it. But it's too vague! This story is solely about SEVENTEEN different hallways (I know, a stupid idea, but I didn't choose the best example so bare with me) and it's confusing to the reader! So, we get

Quantum Hope Devourer sounded of bells as each door closed.

And now you think, well that's just stupid, It doesn't make any sense! I can't believe I wasted my time reading this, I thought you were making a point. You just changed everything about the sentence, how can you possibly expect it to keep the same shape and sound when you change it so much?!

Which is MY point, how can I possibly hope to keep the things I like about a piece as everything changes. This is why I don't like revising work. But everything needs to be revised. Nothing is perfect from the start, I know this and am stuck in this dilema.

And here, you might say to yourself, but he hasn't even mentioned voice OR spontaneity once in his question! A good point and I thank you for paying such close attention, but you can see where this is going. Voice is all about phrasing words so it sounds one way and spontaneity is all about imaginative word choice so it sounds another way and everything is always about how it reads. So then the revision process forces these things to a backseat in the creative process because I can't focus on them when they mean so much to me.

I understand how to fix plot structure, story problems, literary vices and all that through revision, but not this stuff. How can I approach editing consistently so I don't feel like I'm removing all the good parts in my work? Should it even be a concern? Is it even doable?

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You're suffering from impacted arborvision: you have so much pressure on you that you can no longer see the forest for the trees.

Get an editor. Ask someone else to look at your work. Let a fresh pair of eyes judge how and where you need to cut or expand.

  • There's truth in that. But I guess I'm a little confused by the analogy, which isn't to say it's wrong, I DO have my eyes pressed a little closely to the page but I'm trying to write with my ears. What are the trees here? Do you mean I can't see what needs to be edited? That could just be poor argument presentation on my part, it is not the best example and I did kind of go in a few circles with it – Jeremy May 12 '13 at 19:22
  • @Jeremy Yes, I'm being cute in saying you're too close to the text. You're so involved with it that you can't step back and see what doesn't work or what could be trimmed, and what is a "good part" vs. what is a killable darling. A third party who didn't write the text and isn't as invested in it can often be more objective about what does and doesn't work. – Lauren Ipsum May 12 '13 at 20:19
  • Sound advice for sure, thank you. I hate that I have to keep reminding myself about stuff like this. Do you know how much an editor usually charges for short pieces? – Jeremy May 13 '13 at 21:29
  • @Jeremy There's no set rate. Everyone is different. When I edit, I read a timed sample (that is, I read for one hour and see how far I get) and use that to extrapolate how long it will take for the rest of the work. My estimates are usually quite good. Some people offer flat rates per word or flat rates per piece. – Lauren Ipsum May 13 '13 at 23:57
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If you are revising to the point where you are altering tenses then you are not probably in a destructive cycle of endless rewrite which has no exit.

It is a total fallacy that writing that has been altered 100 times is always better than writing that has never been altered at all. Plenty of quite successful authors send off something close to a first draft and make money writing and are considered very good at it.

Perfect example is Heinlein's rules for writing: Rule Three: You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order.

Pretty good rule. You know why? If you are rewriting what are you NOT doing? You are NOT making something new. If you are rewriting you are NOT writing another story, another novel, whatever. What is better, to have a superlatively polished turd or to have 3 stories at least one of which has the potential to NOT be a turd at all?

If you are serious about writing you have to have the ego to put something down on paper, hand it to somebody else, and then go ahead and start working on another thing. If you are going to doubt yourself so much that you have to utterly and totally rewrite everything you do constantly, you'll never get anywhere. You will make vastly more progress by moving on than obsessing over something that isn't working.

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