Textual nightmares: or, some ways you can not suck at editing by learning from my mistakes
Writing novels is not my problem. My output has only improved in the last few years, and I’ve finally moved beyond the whining about not having time, or making every excuse in the world not to write stage. Those were big hurdles for me, and I’m proud of the accomplishment. I generally make my 1K goal every day, with a few exceptions, and I love telling the stories.
So what’s the problem, right?
Unfortunately, what’s resulted is lots of first drafts, and not completed novels. As a writer who fumbles around in the dark putting pieces together, this is truly problematic as editing, the next step in the process, just opens up all sorts of new and strange writing problems and therefore, inevitably, leads me toward a complete creative freeze.
I have approached editing three drastically different ways for the last three completed drafts. With The Aldersgate, I rewrote everything. I think I saved just over 3K of the original 100K book, and ended up somewhere around 150K (which is still too long). With Pilgrim of the Sky I did a direct edit, three times through; didn’t re-write, so much as restructured. This worked well, but burned me out, and literally left textual imprints on my retinas.
Then came Queen of None. I wrote this book in about five weeks, just after my sister’s cancer diagnoses. Read: therapy. After finishing the edits on Pilgrim I went right to it, and was disappointed by pretty much the entire book, or at least the chapters I’d managed to get through.
- Mistake #1 – I should have re-read the entire thing, without editing (and trying not to think about editing) before I went about the deed. It would have given me access to the better parts of the book, and I would have been a better judge of the story overall, rather than each chapter in succession. Because parts of it are not good, or even worth keeping, and that completely overwhelmed me.
- Mistake #2 – I should have thought harder about my narrative perspective. Hands down, Queen of None was the easiest book I’ve ever written. Hell, after the 8 POVs in The Aldersgate it was a cakewalk. But the awesome thing about multi-POV is that when you get tired of one voice, you just move right along. Not so with first-person. I have found myself loathing, admiring, despising, and loving Anna Pendragon. I chose first person because I wanted it to be her story. She’s Arthur’s sister, for goodness sakes, she deserves to tell it her way! I’m just not sure I knew what I was getting into at the time.
- Mistake #3 – I also let so-called edited chapters out before I should have, sharing with some other writers. While this is a good thing–sharing, yes!–I was a little too enthusiastic, and rather than ask myself the harder questions and really shake up my edits, I ended up being overwhelmed by the feedback. Not that it was all bad; it was simply a bad move considering the shoddy framework that I’d already built around me.
- Mistake #4 – I just let myself get the better of… uh, myself. Instead of rising to the challenge, I grumbled, I buckled, I put it away. I did not champion on, I did not do better; no, I folded. Now I’m standing in front of Queen of None again. It’s been up and down the last few days, but I’m still making slow progress.
- Mistake #5 – You know when people say to work on something else if one particular work is giving you issues? Well, that’s well and good, unless you end up with seven unfinished short stories and three unfinished novels in various states of disrepair. There’s a point of utter saturation, where, in my case anyway, the brain is no longer capable of focusing on one thing and, therefore, giving it the attention it deserves. It’s a kind of mental multi-personality disorder, from a textual perspective anyway.
So… forging on. I’m going to make a list (haha, this is not my typical approach) and rate my projects in order, and spend some time really considering a) marketability b) reality and c) creative attachment. I’ve got to work on something I love, and it’s got to be worth my time. Maybe that sounds a little uninspired, but clearly my free-as-a-bird approach isn’t working. I need a little drill sergeant in my life.
I’ve been writing novel-length stuff since I was twelve, and I’ve got to say, I still feel like a total n00b.