The Samurai Guide To #Editing Like A Rock Star (Guest blog by @StartYourNovel)

We’re delighted to welcome JM Bell back to iWriteReadRate with this great guest article about editing your work. Whilst reading this, ask yourself, do you edit like a Samurai and a Rock Star?

The Samurai Guide To Editing Like A Rock Star

By JM Bell

Long, long ago there was this complete hard-ass. His name was Yamamoto Tsunetomo and he was a samurai for most of his life. He said something I’ll never forget:

The man who chases two hares will catch none.

Sometimes you fall in love with your writing. Not with the act of writing, no – with the thing you have written. Be it blog post, short story or novella, it looks just perfect to you. Of course it does, it’s your baby.

Don’t worry, you’ll always be poetic.

So you don’t want to touch it anymore. You’re done. Change a single comma? Heresy! You know what, that’s terrible. Let me share a secret with you: good writing gets in the way of good writing.

“What?” I hear you ask. “What are you babbling about, you nut? That doesn’t even make sense!”

Hear me out. There are two kinds of good writing – two hares. You can’t chase them both. One of the hares represents effective, no-nonsense, uncomplicated storytelling. The other stands for poetic, ornate and richly symbolic narrative.

Plenty of writers try number two, butt their heads against the wall and go back to number one.

Why? Because it’s too tempting to write like a poet, yet tempting is not synonymous with “easy.” To be clear, mastering the language of symbol is difficult. It takes years of reading and training and living. Experienced writers know when they’ve tackled themes that exceed their present capability, just like a four-year-old pianist “knows” he or she can’t play Schubert.

Rock musicians become merciless self-editors. Learn from them.

Rock bands know they’ll have to play the same set hundreds of times. Much like a rock song, a story doesn’t tumble out of your head fully formed and ready to conquer the world.

Rock bands practice the same song for hours until they get it right, and once they get it right, they keep practicing. This is just like the editing process. Playing that song until it drives you crazy is the best way to weed out the sluggish or unsteady parts. The weakly-arranged transitions. The dissonance that might creep into the song structure when the band’s not tight enough.

What your story needs is a backbone… Everything else is flavor. The most memorable rock songs are built around a single theme. People don’t remember Twist and Shout just because it was simple but also because it was internally consistent. Seven Nation Army is now a football chant because the White Stripes came up with a simple, killer riff and turned it into the song’s center of gravity.  At its most basic, all a rock song needs is verse, bridge and chorus. You can stack ten orchestras on top of a solid backbone.

Musicians kill their darlings every day. When a phrase or a bar’s just not working, they chuck it out. You can’t cram ten songs into one.

Editing is easy when you know what you want to say, and how you want to say it.

Before you even begin writing, ask yourself, what is my message to the world? The answer will become the guiding principle to your story.

Style is secondary. A swordsman approaches form with nary a thought to beauty. Feints and parries take time to develop; elegance emerges from practice. A guitarist works on their solos until they know them by heart – only then do they achieve fluency.

The Samurai and the musician leave out unnecessary flourishes that hinder their movements.

Won’t you do the same?
Stop chasing two hares.

John Magnet Bell is a translator, photographer and blogger. He churns out story prompts like there’s no tomorrow. Follow him on Twitter or Google+ and say goodbye to writer’s block.

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