On Writing: Editing Chapters

This week I will spend my time editing/re-writing/chucking pages from my novel.

This is the process I hate the most. I envy those people who say they edit as they write because they are so meticulous about the process while I seem to come from another space of having the words spill out of me like releasing the spirit of a not so demonic possession. I’m never in the zone of editing as I tell someone’s story. I hope when I go back to re-read that what came out of me was not a trove of babble. Most times I will spot grammar problems, inconsistencies or repetitive dialogue pretty quickly but completely chucking sentences,thoughts or whole chapters is particularly hard for me.  I like to do a before and after to see what it is I changed and improved upon during the process.

To my fellow writers: Do you edit your own work, how many edits do you do? Is there a method to your process? 


slush pile

It is 1955 and of all the men a young Jewish girl could fall in love with Marnie Weiss chooses Ray Willis, a black man.

This excerpt is from my novel and it introduces Ray Willis, a central character in my novel, name still undetermined.

This is one of the ten chapters I hope to edit this week


Harlem was Ray Willis’s home. He was not born in a little town in Mississippi like his parents. He could not appreciate his parents’ affection for the south. He wanted nothing to do with anything rural. The city is where it was all at and that is where he wanted to be. His parents thought differently. Every summer, against all Ray’s protests, his parents would send him to Mississippi to stay with his mother’s sister, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.

“Boy, look at all this beautiful land. See them trees? Those are magnolia trees. It’s like God placed these big perfume bottles in the ground and when the wind blows the fragrance from those trees makes the whole world smell good.” His mother, Ruby Willis, smiled with so much pride. Ray stared vacantly at her and the white petals that floated through the air. What in the world was there to love about this place? There were no buildings, the store was over a mile away, and although he loved beef and milk it bothered him greatly that cows were all over the place. And where were all the flashy men and women you see in Harlem every Friday and Saturday night? Naw this place was not for him so Ray just pouted and tried to keep his anger to a slow boil. As much as Ray hated Columbia, Mississippi he loved his mother more. He didn’t want to hurt her by telling her that she was dropping him off in the pit of hell to burn with her lovely magnolia trees.

“Mama I can’t stand it. It’s too dang hot here.” Fourteen year old Ray complained.

“It gets just as hot in Harlem. Besides what is summer without heat? That’s what it means.”

“Why do I have to stay the whole summer?” He whined.

“Well you can help out my mama for one thing. There ain’t nothing for you to do in Harlem but work and get into trouble and if you have to work you might as work for your ownself or your family.”

“I aint spending the whole summer cleaning up after cows.”

“What you aint gonna do is tell me what you aint gonna do. You’ll do exactly what I tell you and anything my mama and your uncles tell you to do. Young people have to give back as much as they get.”

He knew it was senseless to argue with her. Senseless and bone-breaking stupid if she decided to tell his father that he’d talked back. So he just would have to buck up and stay the summer, again.

The only thing good about those summers were the sweet magnolia honeys swarming around him like bees on a flower. Maybe it was the hot sun that made every girl in the south look so delicious, like a baked peach pie. No northern girl could walk and sway like those girls in Mississippi. They knew they had something, even the girls that guarded that something with a bat or bible knew it. But those girls who were not on Baptist patrol were the lust of every man and boy and the pang of every woman. How they sauntered with those wide hips and thick thighs. Those women made work look sexy if you paid attention. Beads of sweat dripping down the crevice of their beautiful brown bosoms, clothes drenched in perspiration clinging to their tight firm bodies giving any man with half an imagination a sweet view to the shape of her body and always that slight look over their shoulder to make sure you were watching. Sweet young flowers would chase him all over his auntie’s land begging to meet him behind her shed. He smiled at the thought. Well, maybe Mississippi was not all that bad.

As early as thirteen he knew he had an effect on the opposite sex. He didn’t mind. He loved women and he loved the way they loved him back. He could sit all day and just listen to a woman talk. The way she could go from serious to excited at the littlest of things. Go from hating to loving at the smallest of gestures. He loved it when they were complex and he had to figure them out like a puzzle. And he loved them when they were simple and there was not much work to them at all. He treated them all with great care, from his mama to his sisters, to the women he bedded. Nothing was ever gained by hurting one of God’s great gifts to the earth.  His father, Albert Willis told him that. His father loved only one woman, Ray’s mother. Ray loved many women. He was always being chased whether it was by a southern sweetie or a Harlem hottie. Ray Willis didn’t have to do a lot to get a woman’s attention and boy did he love the attention.

He made it through those summers, barely, but he vowed when he was a grown man he’d never leave the streets of Harlem. As he drove down Interstate 95 leaving Boston he guessed he had broken that vow some. Boston was not Harlem by a long shot but it was a city and he was doing quite well there. Like Mississippi Boston did have its good.

One thing he did learn from his parents and spending those summers in Mississippi is that it really is best to work for oneself. His people worked hard, they raised cattle, they tended land, his grandma and aunties made clothes and at the end of the day whatever they had earned from all of it was theirs. He could respect that even as a boy. Ray learned early, although he did not like farm work, he did like work and he loved working for himself. Life was a hustle, Harlem taught him that and he hustled to have his own. He left Harlem at twenty because his cousin from Mississippi had offered him the opportunity to work with him in purchasing a store in Boston.

“Ray this is perfect for you man, nobody I know can talk as smoothly as you. You’ll get all the folks wanting to buy their clothes in our store.”

“Nigger I don’t want to move to Boston, I didn’t even know there were black folks in Boston.”

His cousin sighed. “There are plenty of black folks in Boston, I’m here aint I? Come on man just come down one time when you see the money we can make you’ll want to stay for sure.”

Ray did go and he stayed. That was five years ago and today he and his cousin had the only successful black owned clothing store. He was doing well for a twenty-five year old black man in 1955. He just bought his own home and was providing for his wife and newborn child better than even he had expected. He was doing just fine. Fats Domino’s ‘Aint that a Shame’ blared from his old car radio as he made his way down the interstate. Ray Willis’s chest puffed with pride as he thought about his life, his very good life.

jodi piccoult


2 thoughts on “On Writing: Editing Chapters

  1. I tend to edit as part of a continuous process during writing. I often start a writing session by looking back over what I wrote the day before and tinkering with it, or if I come to a standstill for the next scene, I go back and edit earlier sections by way of a change of task while the creativity battery recharges.

    Just writing full flow and then doing all the editing separately sounds like it has its advantages – getting everything down on the page and letting the imaginative side of the brain take charge.

    I enjoyed the excerpt btw. Looks like the story’s taking shape.


    1. Thank you for reading my post. I wish there was a happy medium for me. The only time I can properly edit as I go is if the story is not shouting to me. As I wrote this novel everyday just picked off from the day before it just flowed but having to go back and read over 385 pages is huge process, a huge tedious process


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