Editing? Sure, I’ll Take Another Paper Cut to the Eye Ball. But…

Reality

Reality (Photo credit: Beatnic)

Let’s talk about editing for a moment. You know, that thing new writers think is a slam dunk. Wham-bam thank you Mam and look at my shiny, new book! I’ll be so great the first time around,  I’ll just do a quick spell check and be on my merry way, all the way to the bank, with my big, fat check in hand. Move over, Stephen King!

Now back to reality. Editing is a joy for some writers, but then there are the rest of us—the tired, weary-eyed writers who open their computers and reluctantly set out to edit. But that’s not to say it’s all bad.

When I started writing my first novel, I did a lot of reading up on the ol’ editing process. Yes, yes, that joyful middle ground we writers wade in for what feels like an eternity. I read some really great books on the subject, and I also read many forums where other writers shared their experiences. Some paint editing out to look like a writer’s purgatory of sorts, and some jump for joy at the opportunity to edit. As for me, before I even finished my novel, I knew damn well that editing wasn’t going to be a fun roll in the hay. I knew it was going to be hard work, and a ton of it. I went in eyes wide open and totally aware of my lack of brilliance. I would need to edit—and edit I did.

Now, for what I didn’t know: I didn’t know that editing wasn’t just editing. Sure, I thought it required going through your work with a fine-tooth comb, but what I didn’t realize was that editing is really re-writing. The reality that you’re going to re-write your entire book—over and over and over—kind of hits you like a sack of really big, really pissed off potatoes. That’s right, young people and new writers, editing means re-writing, and then, once you’ve re-written your novel to near perfection—whether that be 5 times or 25—the simplistic editing comes in: spell checks, grammar checks, polishing. This might sound insane (I know it did to me at first) but there’s a reason for the madness. Writing your book several times isn’t something you do just to prove to the world that you’re willing to slave away for your art. Nope. It serves a valuable purpose. But if you just need a pat on the back for trying so hard, go ahead and ask someone to do that for you.

Let’s use my first novel as an example: it was a whopping 238,000 words. Needless to say my book required massive amounts of editing, and guess what? I’m still editing the beast. It was when I finished it, when those blissful words were written: “The End” (actually, I didn’t really write “The End,” but just go with it—I’m trying to be dramatic here), that the amount of work still ahead became clear. Sure, I had this novel that I loved and was proud of, but good God, if it wasn’t the most pitiful thing I’d ever read. And that’s the most important thing to remember about editing: everyone’s first draft is horrible  Absolutely, stinking, horrible. No one is immune to it, and if you think you are—because you’re that one in a million writer—watch out, ’cause your book is probably the biggest stinker of them all. This profession requires humility, so remember not to get too big for your britches, grasshopper.

Now for the really cool thing about editing. Yeah, yeah, it’s a heavy load of work and it’s not always easy to do, but something really amazing happens in the process. When you finish your first draft and put that sucker away for a while, you’ll go back later and read it straight through, and then the pissed off potatoes come out to play. Abusive buggers, they are. You read your novel and realize that it’s bad. Real, real bad. Then you beat yourself up for a while, eat mass quantities of processed garbage, tell yourself you’re a hack—do whatever you have to, and you will have to do something to ease the pain of reality. But after that, when you’ve come back to reality and get to work again, that, my dear readers, is when the clouds start to part and the silver lining appears. That’s when you find out that something very special happened to you in the process of writing your first (shitty) draft: you became a better writer. Now you get down to editing (rewriting) that trashy manuscript, and as sure as the sun comes up, you’ll see something amazing happen to your novel: every sentence you restructure and every word you replace will be far better than the last. You’ll be amazed by how much your writing will have improved between the time you wrote page 1 and edited page 1.

I’m into the third re-write of my book, and while there are days when I just want to work on a new story with new characters and new plots, I have to admit that I enjoy the simple act of fixing my work, of replacing poorly written material with better material. Every rewrite I do will render a far better book, and I’ll be a far better writer for it.

So, for anyone out there who’s embarking on the editing journey: fear not, and don’t get discouraged. It’s a long, bumpy road, but it’s the best learning tool in the box. Nothing will improve your writing like editing will.

© 2013 Sloane Kady

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6 thoughts on “Editing? Sure, I’ll Take Another Paper Cut to the Eye Ball. But…

    • Thank you very much for the encouraging words. It makes me feel great knowing that you, and possibly others, have benefited from my experiences. I so appreciate you sharing with me your thoughts. I hope to carve out some time in the near future to post more. Take care!

  1. First off I want to say awesome blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to
    ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before
    writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out
    there. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes
    are wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips?
    Thank you!

    • Battlefield 4, thank you so much for your kind words and support. I greatly appreciate all of my readers. You guys and gals are awesome!

      As for your question: so much of writing, for me, a least, comes down to striking while the iron is hot. When I’m inspired, when the itch strikes and I NEED to write, I go full throttle. I Don’t stop—don’t slow down. But that’s not the norm. More often than not, I can’t clear my head, either. Or, shall I say, the words/thoughts/ideas just won’t come. They’re there, stuck beneath a jumble of to-do lists, song lyrics, unrelated thoughts (why’d they name toilet paper squares “plys”?), and commercial jingles (“We are famers, bum ba-bum ba-bum-bum-bum!). When this persists, it’s what we call “writer’s block”. Sometimes it’s difficult to calm a rambling mind. All those thoughts and distractions don’t make for an ideal mental setting, particularly when you’re meant to write every day. Sucks, eh?!

      But, (not to downplay your struggle) you’re not doing too bad at all. Ten to fifteen minutes isn’t very long to wait for your muse to arrive. Some wait hours, days, weeks, months…even years. I know I have. And everyone suffers from this, so don’t get down on yourself. People have been trying forever to unlock the mind from the state of blah. But the more you stress, the harder it is for the mind to open up.

      Having said that, there are practices that will prime your mind, so to speak, and hone your creativity, so that you can tap into it with more ease. Here’s one practice: when you sit down to write, immediately start writing…about anything at all. Don’t think—just go, as soon as your butt hits the seat. It doesn’t matter what you write about or how silly or bad you think (or know) it is, because no one’s going to see it. Just write, and allow your mind to take your silly story wherever it wants to. Do this for ten to fifteen minutes, every time you sit down to write, and soon you’ll notice a change in how easily you’re able to tap into those creative juices. Creativity, just like anything else, sharpens with practice. Remember: any habit, big or small, takes thirty days to become routine, habitual, automatic. Give it a month.

      I’ll leave you with this bit of good news. When I begin a novel—plotting, planning, outlining, etc.—I often find myself staring at a blank page or a lone cursor. Before I know it, I hear the faintest voice and soon realize it’s mine: “The one and only Cheerios”. Then I’m contemplating Cheerios, the Cheerio factory, how many people might have lost fingers in the Cheerio factory, what cereal really reigns supreme, what a world without cereal would look like, then I decide I want Captain Crunch, then I’m thinking about fishing boat captains, then I can almost hear Forrest yelling out, “Lieutenant Dan! Lieutenant Dan!” and next thing I know, I’m watching FORREST GUMP. This is when my muse is moody and premenstrual and is giving me the silent treatment. But, as for the good news, once I’ve outlined my novel, everything comes much easier. I very rarely struggle with writer’s block in this phase of the game. The words may not be brilliant, but that’s what re-writing and editing are for. It’s unearthing that gem of a story that proves truly problematic.

      I sure hope this helped. Good Luck, fellow writer!

  2. Talent is a necessity for writers, maybe; and I use that qualifier because many many many many many books that are published are absolute crap. At least you don’t have to be super-good looking (though you’re absolutely gorgeous; which is an exception) to get your book out there, noticed. Marketing is supposed to rule the day there. Though increasingly, the author must be a personality to get attention for their book. It helps you have ready jokes, good humor, a raconteur’s sensibilities and acumen and some solid connections to the entertainment industry. Sigh. Good luck with your work…may all the fates favor you. -Jj

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