Editing’s hard. Did anyone ever tell you that before? Well, it is.
It’s hard for reasons I can’t even express, because I don’t fully understand them myself. It’s slow, it’s painful, it’s making my brain hurt, and it’s making me tired beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve worked hard all my life – both physically and mentally, sometimes both at the same time – and nothing (not even writing my doctoral thesis) has compared to this. I knew it would be challenging, but this has surpassed everything I expected.
Editing your work involves far more than simply hitting the Delete button when your editor tells you something’s overwritten or unnecessary – if that’s all it was, there wouldn’t be an issue. I have deleted, without a spark of regret, thousands of needless words over the past couple of weeks; I have cringed at my tendency to overuse similes and, much as a chef stuffs cloves of garlic into a leg of roasting lamb, my need to stuff my prose with imagery (see what I mean? That kind of thing – avoid it). That’s all fine. I’m learning things about myself as a reader and a writer, and it’s all good. Some of what I’ve deleted has given me a good giggle, actually, along the lines of what on earth was I thinking when I wrote that? And how did it survive seven passes of self-editing? (Kids: this just proves editing your own work is pretty much impossible. Let my pain be a lesson).
But then there are the questions your editor asks – Why is this happening here, when something else would be better? Why is this character doing x, y or z when a simpler course of action has just presented itself? What do you mean by describing something this way? Can you cut some of the description here because it’s getting in the way of imagination? I think you need to cut this character because they don’t add anything to the plot; can you think of a better way to move things along here?
This stuff is hard not only because you’re facing up to your own writerly inadequacies – which is tough by itself – but because you’re being forced to face up to the fact that you got so caught up in your own story that you let things like logic and physics and characterisation, dang it, go out the window. I don’t think there’s been a paragraph yet in this book of mine in which every single detail in it has been explained properly – by far the most-used phrase in my edits is ‘help your reader’, by which my agent-editor means sort this mess out, right? Stuff isn’t making sense here, again.
It’s hard to realise that you’ve made mistakes, and that you’ve made them repeatedly throughout your manuscript. It’s hard to realise that they’re mistakes you were aware of, mistakes you tried to avoid, mistakes you were certain you weren’t going to slip into – but you did, anyway, without even noticing. It’s hard to realise that these mistakes mean you need to rethink entire plots, whole chapters, chunks of paragraphs, exchanges of dialogue and character motivations – and that every change you make may have serious knock-on effects for the whole book. Essentially, every change means a cascade of further changes, and it’s hard to catch them all.
I guess, too, that part of me hoped I’d be better, maybe more talented or more of a ‘natural’ or less in need of help – and maybe the hardest part of these edits is the deconstructing of that edifice. It’s easy to feel self-reliant when you’re writing on your own, to yourself, and it’s tough to have it pointed out, however gently, that you’re in need of improvement.
But that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Writing is a collaborative thing, requiring an author and an editor – sometimes a team of editors. It’s not a simple case of ‘lone genius in ivory tower churns out bestseller, effortlessly’ – it takes time, and hard work. Every book is a lesson learned. Hopefully, I won’t make these ‘rookie’ mistakes again, and I’m learning as I go, but I’ll always need someone there with a critical eye, making me face up to the tough questions and forcing me to think carefully about the words I put down, and why. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m glad to have the chance to do it.
Now. Time to get stuck in, again. See you on the other side…
Feel for you Sinead – editing and proofing is something you can never do for yourself because you’re too close to everything and, tellingly, because you knowwhat you meant to write, which isn’t the same as what you actually wrote, all the time.
I’ve been able to school myself with repetitions but they still creep in regardless and passive voice is another thing that keeps invading when I thought it’d been weeded out… I did find a moderately useful online editing tool the other day – AutoCrit Editing Wizard, which is more than a souped up spell checker and does winkle out things like sentence length variation and cliche and redundant phrases, and does a combination report of all the really common howlers. It does lighten the load for line editing certainly but I doubt there’ll ever be a substitute for a good copy editor – they truly are worth the money, no matter how hard up you are.
Hang in there – you’re treating it constructively which is good as licking perceived ‘artistic’ wounds is really a waste of time at this phase of getting the work ready to go to press – it’ll all be well worth the effort and the blood, sweat and tears now 😉
Thanks! The solidarity is appreciated. 🙂 I definitely appreciate my agent (who is also an accomplished editor, and whose edits I’m currently working through); she has done an intense job on this book. It has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion, not going to lie, but you’re right – it will all be worth it in the end. I’ve not heard of Auto Crit Editing Wizard, but I tend to be a bit sceptical of software like that anyway. I’ll check it out, though, if it comes highly recommended!
Thanks for reading and commenting, and for your compassionate understanding. 🙂
Auto Crit’s good of its kind but comes in various ‘grades’ depending on how much you want to subscribe for – and I can’t afford the top rung and frankly don’t think it’s worth it when I’ve got a kickass heart and soul editor living across the county border from me 😉
It did however save her the monotony of going through the really basic gaffes on my last 2 pieces I’ve sent her for editing, so I’m happy with the less extravagant edition (I think it was around $25US) as that lets you review in chunks of just over 1000 words at a time, which is fine for ‘as you write’ checks and keeps my nose to the grindstone!
I got it because I’m putting together an anthology for the Writers Collective I belong to (very mixed bag of technical ability, despite the great creativity) so it’s been a good experience so far.
I’m thinking this piece is one that students of English should all read 🙂
😀 All students of English who have delusions of being A Great Novelist, at least. Some people just think books write themselves, and first drafts end up in print, and that all the hard work is involved in wringing the story from your living soul, and all that nonsense. Nope. The hard work isn’t the writing – it’s the *rewriting*. Thanks, Maurice. 🙂
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