The other day, I did the writers’ equivalent of a workout, which basically amounts to running up and down the stairs every few minutes to grab the sheets of paper being spat out by a (groaning and overworked) printer. It took a while to print all of ‘Emmeline’, especially considering I did it in batches of 25 pages so as not to burn out the printer’s motor (later rising to 30 when impatience overwhelmed me), and there are 260 pages in total.
Two Hundred and Sixty Pages. Almost 75,000 words. Sometimes I worry that the book is still on the long side considering it’s upper Middle Grade (or 9-12, depending on how you like to refer to your children’s book age ranges), but I reckon worrying about making it the best I can is more important than worrying about word count. I hope the story is good enough to carry the reader through; I hope, after twelve edits, that the book is as lean and perfectly formed as I’m going to get it.
But just in case it isn’t, I’m going through it one more time. Hence, the printout.
It really is true that editing on paper is helpful, particularly if the past few editing runs have been on-screen. Your eye treats printed material differently to material on a computer screen, and if something appears new, you can fool yourself into reading it as though it actually was. Some writers like to mix things up with different fonts, different sizes or colours of lettering, on different passes of edits, but I find that a bit of a distraction (plus, as a font nerd, I tend to get more enthusiastic about the individual letters than the words they’re forming, which can be a bit of a hassle). Everyone has to find a system that works for them, I suppose. I find I like to do as many passes of edits on screen as possible before I print, mainly because I hate wasting paper and toner and so this way I feel like I’m giving the environment a fighting chance as well as trying to produce my best work. I’m not sure – because the various passes fade into memory, at this stage – how many times I’ve printed ‘Emmeline’ already, but I don’t like to think about it too much for fear of making my inner hippie weep. I guess that’s why we also have a shredder and a paper recycling bin, right? Gaia will forgive me. (I hope).
But it’s also true that, at this stage, when every tiny pore and cranny and wrinkle of this book is as familiar to me as the ones in my own face, that the idea of tackling it again holds very little appeal. I know that each edit is helpful (and, hopefully, it’ll spare me pain down the line), and that each edit will, with any luck, make my book more ‘saleable’, or whatever the marketing term is, and that – most importantly of all – each edit makes my book better, and closer to the dream I had when I started it, but still. I wrote it. I’ve edited it, over and over. Beginning another edit doesn’t really feel like progress – it feels like being stuck in the mire, like dying in a computer game and being dumped back at Level One to start again from scratch. My schedule has been off for the past few weeks (because life, you know?) and I’ve used that as an excuse not to begin the reading process. ‘I’ve got other things on my mind,’ I tell myself; ‘I can’t bring my best focus to this work, right now.’ There’s some truth in that, but I know I could knuckle down if I really tried. Next week, however, things should start to settle down again and my excuses will fizzle to an early death – and my handsome printout will still be sitting here on my desk, tapping its metaphorical nails, raising its impatient eyebrow at me and going ‘Well? Are we going to get this done, or what?’
We’ll get it done. I know myself well enough to know that when I start, I’ll bring an unrelenting focus to the task. It’s just getting up the motivation – and the courage – to begin which causes the problem. Every edit is one step closer to sending the book back to my agent. Every edit is one step closer to (maybe) getting the phonecall which says ‘There’s a publisher interested…’ Every edit is one step closer to seeing my book on a shelf, and holding it in my hands – if I’m lucky beyond all my deserving.
And all that is amazing, and a dream. It’s also scary as heck.
But I’ll get it done.
Just not today.