Trials and Terrors of Editing

As perceived by Meredith Debonnaire

For the last several years I have been writing a novel, and last Summer I finally had a full first draft. Since then, I have intermittently been going through the process of attempting to refine this first draft into something readable and enjoyable. That is, I’ve been editing.

What I have discovered is that I find editing hellish. Actually hellish. I’ve never had to edit something of this length before, which means that the learning curve is pretty steep. Writing, for me, is a very raw process. It’s exciting, trying to fit all my ideas into a form. Even on days when I have horrible writer’s block and spend all the time that I put aside for writing picking my toenails in a creatively moribund funk, it feels like part of a process. Editing, however, inspires in me a terror similar to that of doing my tax return. I go into avoidance mode; my room needs cleaning, my socks need pairing, my accounts are in a mess, I have a backache, there are about five books that I’ve been meaning to read forever and suddenly all these things are things that I need to deal with now.

Admitting this makes me feel like a pathetic human being, because I have always wanted to be a professional writer and I know that editing is something I just have to do if I want that to become a reality. There’s a part of me saying “Meredith! Get ahold of yourself! Stop faffing about, sit down and edit that damn chapter! It doesn’t matter if you mess it up because you can go back later and change it. It’s not the end of the world if you get it wrong. Edit the damn chapter! Then you can watch that Avengers film and eat chocolate.” To which the rest of me replies (in a whiny voice) “But it’s scaaarrryy.”

The thing is, it’s hard to be objective when I’ve invested three+ years of my life in this project. It’s terrifying to re-read my writing and realise that there are whole sections (that I personally really like) that are completely superfluous. I have to put all my mental armour on and go “Okay, those ten chapters neither advanced the plot or the character development. Away with them!” while secretly plotting other stories in which the characters that have now vanished can be used. When I realise that there are sections that I actively dislike, it feels like a personal failing somehow. Because I wrote that, and invested myself in it and worked really hard and it’s still awful.

It’s also very easy for me to get bogged down in editing individual chapters and lose sight of the overall story. Sometimes I feel like I get so close to it that I can’t actually see anything anymore, but there’s only so many times I can read through the entire manuscript before it just becomes a huge blur in my head. Editing seems like a process that, to do well, I actually have to take a lot of breaks from in order to be able to re-read the changes I’ve made with clear eyes. However this makes building a work habit very difficult, and also massively exacerbates my tendency towards procrastinating.

The most confusing moment that I’ve had so far was last Friday, when I realised that I had three versions of my storyline plan all of which were different. I had, at some point, made various revisions to the order of events in my manuscript (the novel I am writing is told in a non-linear fashion, so this potentially gets complicated very quickly) and forgotten to date any of them. I found myself sitting in a café reading through each of these versions, with very little clue as to which one was the most recent. I ended up just reading through all of them, picking the one that worked best overall and making a few minor changes to it.

I have, however, had some brilliant pieces of advice from other writers about editing. The first piece of advice was given to me when I had just finished the first draft of the entire novel; I was advised to put it away, and not look at it for at least two months. Longer if I could manage it. It was a very wise course of action.

The second piece of completely invaluable advice that was given to me was that, rather than just going through the novel and cutting things, I should try to write the essence of each chapter in 100 words exactly. This forces me to only include the absolute essentials, and then I can build up from those bones using my first draft as reference. I’m not always particularly strict about this, but it is a very helpful tactic.

I am also lucky enough to have a wide circle of creative friends willing to read my work, give honest feedback, offer support and be an ear for me to moan into when I need to. I fully intend to continue slogging slowly uphill with this task until I have a good, readable manuscript. However much tea, chocolate and tears are needed on the way. Maybe my editing skills will even improve…

Post-editing face How I feel after a day spent editing.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jo5ephga1nes
    Apr 22, 2014 @ 20:27:02

    Good advice and nice work using the word “faffing” I have no idea what it means lol


    • Meredith
      Apr 23, 2014 @ 13:52:30

      I’m not entirely sure how to define “faffing”-it’s a word that my family use a lot to describe when someone appears to be very busy and there’s lot of movement and talking, but the thing that they’re actually trying to do is not getting done. It’s like dithering, but more active and fidgety.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: