Saturday, January 18, 2014

My Love-Hate Relationship with Editing (Part II)

So here I am, at it again. Editing. Oh so much editing! Writing is re-writing, and as I take a moment to reflect on my newest book, I know that, once again, as much as I dreaded editing, it was also extremely rewarding.
Consider all of the aspiring writers who start a piece, begin to edit it, decide to re-write it before even reaching a halfway point in the story, and never truly finish that first piece of writing. I've learned (both from experience and at conventions listening to other professional writers) that editing is specifically the second half of the writing process. The first half is getting something down!
Jodi Picoult once said, "You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page." 
If there's any tenet of writing I follow most slavishly, it is that one. I do not edit until I've got a mostly finished first draft. Otherwise, I'll never finish. I see this over and over again with aspiring writers who try and edit as they go along. It is, perhaps, an attainable for a truly seasoned writer, especially one who has to freedom to write full-time (oh what a dream!), but for the novice, I urge and implore you to consider the quote above. Write something, anything, even something bad. Then begin your editing. That's what it's for.
In the end, my love-hate relationship with editing exists because I've learn to rely on it heavily after the intensive creative process of writing the first draft. But I have to finish it first. Only after I get all the supposedly brilliant words down do I begin to think of editing. I stop and give myself some time off to clear my head. During that time off, the amount of editing I have to do begins to loom over me as I think about all the promises I made to myself to fill out scenes or add research and details. I start to try and avoid it. 
During the editing process for my most recent book, I finally figured out why: editing is the second half of the writing process. That intensive first draft is not nearly as complete as I want it to be. I must do a second, and a third, and however many necessary number of drafts until I get it write. It's what I promised myself whenever I skipped around a scene or decided to wait on doing some research. (Of course I can over-edit, so I usually stop myself around a fourth or fifth draft.) The main point to remember, though, is that editing is just as intensive a creative process as the first draft. That's why you have to write something down first, because if you go straight to editing, you are short-changing your creative process.
I don't know if I'll ever truly love editing in a simple, straightforward way. It is often frustrating, particularly when I find mistakes or mis-written sentences several drafts in. But perhaps that's the beauty of my love-hate regard of editing. It challenges me aggressively to become a better writer, and in the midst of that adversity, I not only learn more about writing, I learn to meet each obstacle and how to best overcome them.
So when you write, don't stop. Finish your story. Stop stressing about typos and awkward sentences or pronoun ambiguity. That will come.
First, get the story out.
Trust me, the editing part is not going anywhere. It waits, patiently, for the right moment, the write time.

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