Editing is a hazardous experience, I’m convinced. I know some people say they love it, and I can understand the point of view: there ought to be a feeling of accomplishment when you’ve done the terribly long-winded draft text and you get into the phase of polishing it up. If only it worked that way for me. Here are the risks to health and sanity that I associate with editing:
Hazard #1: Extreme Apprehension (with overtones of pure terror).
The only way I can get to the end of a long project is by sticking at it day after day and keeping the word count growing. If I keep pausing to read back over my work, several things can (and frequently do) happen. One: I get seriously side-tracked with all the imperfections I see and start fixing them. My progress grinds to a halt. Two: I realise how terrible most of it is and my writerly confidence takes a nose-dive. Progress, again, suspended. This being the case, the only time I read over the text of a draft-in-progress is if I really need to remind myself about some detail I included before.
What that means, of course, is that I get to the end of a draft and I have next to no idea how good any of it is. I’ve probably more or less forgotten the earlier chapters altogether. Is it exciting, going back to the beginning and reading it almost anew? No, ladies and gents. It’s nerve-wracking. What if I hate it all? Back to the drawing board? That’s a pleasant prospect.
Associated Symptoms: palpitations, sweating, tremors in the extremities, hyperventilation.
Hazard #2: Self-Condemnation.
This is usually stage two. Once the new draft has been read back through, one invariably realises how awful much of it is. This leads to the usual existential agonies suffered by most writers. How dare I produce such tosh and then call myself a writer? What am I thinking, pressing my awful work on the world? I should go become a gardener or something. Etc.
Associated Symptoms: exhaustion leading to excessive sleeping, black moods, periodic yearning after sharp objects and tall buildings.
Hazard #3: Boredom.
Once one has struggled past the above stages and accepted the inevitable, then comes the boredom. True, this third hazard is somewhat less of a burden than the previous two, but it also lasts longer. The first and second passes through creep by, as one finds a great deal to fix or change. How about pass number three? How about read-through number seven? Somehow one must find the energy to keep going through all these reads, until every tiniest problem is fixed (or so one hopes).
Associated Symptoms: yawning to a potentially life-threatening degree. Blurred vision, desire to sleep (possibly forever), renewed yearning after sharp objects.
Hazard #4: Total destruction of all potential due to over-zealousness.
This insidious hazard dogs the self-editor through every step. Almost everyone will agree that some editing is always necessary, but how much? Some of us edit and edit until it’s as close to perfect as we can get it; but some argue that this approach can ruin all freshness in the writing. In the process of ironing out imperfections, we iron out everything that made it quirky, original and uniquely our own.
HALP. How does one guard against this possibility? Well… perhaps by giving in to some of the urges generated by the above. (Not the sharp objects or the tall buildings – I was thinking of the sleeping and the desire-to-give-up generated by boredom). Rein oneself in at a certain point, hand it over to the beta readers and go on with life? Maybe that would actually help rather than harm. Who knows? Maybe perfectionism isn’t always the best approach.
So, as for me. I finished the first draft of Draykon #2 last week (which is most likely going to be titled “Lokant”, so I’ll call it that from now on). I spent a few days wallowing in hazard #1 and have now progressed into hazard #2. Hazard #3 is going to keep me happily occupied until the end of November. What joy is mine?
The crazy part is that I still love novelising to death, despite all of the above. But I am tired. So it’s lucky that I am flying back to England on Saturday to visit my family for a week. Strictly NO work is to be done in that time; it’s the first visit since I moved and I don’t know when my next visit will be, so I’m going to make the most of it.
This means I’ll be out of touch from the 15th to the 22nd. I have a guest post lined up to keep the blog fires burning in the meantime, but I myself will be harder to reach than normal. In the meantime though, tell me your thoughts on editing. If you’re a writer, how do you approach it? Do you think it’s possible to edit too much? And if you’re not a writer but a reader, do you think some authors need to edit more? (Or less?).