I should be editing right now. With three full-length novels coming out at the end of the summer and into the early fall, the phrase I should be editing right now is pretty much the only thing that comes out of my mouth. I should be editing right now. I should have been editing all day.
If you’ve even even visited the world of writing and craft, you’ve heard the term write drunk, edit sober. The reason for this is that writing is a hell of a lot easier than editing. You don’t need your wits about you to write. I speak only for myself here, but writing is the easiest part of the whole process. You lay everything out on the table and then, later on, you can deal with all the issues.
Well, now it’s later on, and now I have to deal with the issues.
I’m not talking about line edits. Line edits are simple and straightforward. Sometimes they can even be fun. What I’m talking about when I mean edits isn’t simple and isn’t straightforward. It’s the mammoth overhauling of a character’s developmental arc, or making sure that the two chapter detour doesn’t create continuity issues. When I mean editing, I don’t mean facts– names, dates, commas, dialogue tags, I mean big ideas. I mean the book.
Because chances are good, really good, that you will end up rewriting your book from the inside out. And let me tell you– I’d rather write the entire thing beginning to end than have to painstakingly go through and make sure that my additions, subtractions and redirections do their job, to ensure that the book ends up as good as it possibly can be.
Rewriting from the inside out is hard. It’s like the nightmare where you’re desperately trying to get somewhere, but you’re stuck in your own way. It’s pages and pages of notes with scribbles you hope you’ll know the meaning of when the time comes.
Editing the big picture elements of the book is, in my opinion, the dirty job of being a writer. There is nothing more down in the muck, hand wrapped around the lower intestine, your boots squishing in something you don’t want to know what, than editing the big picture elements of the book. There is nothing more filled with pressure, challenge and major potential for disaster.
This is, without a doubt, the hardest part of writing the novel. It’s the moment when you take a step back and sigh and say to yourself, yes, I really do need to write this character’s arc differently if I want this to be the best book it can be.
And that moment just sucks. It’s monumental and intimidating and difficult to conceptualize. For instance, in my current WIP I’m changing the entire Goal Motivation Conflict of two main characters in several scenes. There’s a reason I’ve been so incredibly productive at everything else today and I won’t pretend that I like this part, I don’t. I like the feeling after it’s done, though.
Because at some point, we need to wade into the muck. Maybe at first we go very, very slow, staying in the shallow end, editing a few lines of dialogue or the setting. Then we go a little deeper, exploring a character’s troubled past or their relationship with another character. Piece by piece, we chip away at the big picture until we see the book underneath.
How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.
Every author has their struggle. For instance, I’ve always been a very quick writer, which means first drafts are finished quickly and second drafts are finished very, very slowly. Of course, I’m sure there are many authors out there who enjoy slogging through this big picture editing, who consider writing or outlining the most difficult part of the writing process.
Regardless, it’s not going away. It’s here and difficult because it is important, and it’s something I’m just going to have to come to terms with. There are a lot of fun parts to being a writer, but there are challenging, complicated and dirty parts too. The trick that helps me through those parts is to remember why I started– I want to produce the best book I can, and if it requires these edits, then I’m going to dive right in. When it’s all said and done, I’m keeping the bottle of wine for myself. ♦