Thank you for that apt reminder, Charlotte Brönte. Charlotte is on my top list of authors right now, because of Shirley. Why do we never hear about that book? It's so much funnier than Jane Eyre, not to mention the story is deeper and WAY more interesting. It smacks of an earlier version of North and South because we have a harsh mill owner and disgruntled workers, although the story contains a good deal more than that. You need to read it.
Ahem. I shall now get down to the nitty-gritty.
I hate editing. Big surprise, right? Why can't I just write a paper and have it turn out perfectly right away? Instead, I sit staring into nothingness and growing more and more frustrated with myself because I can't think of how I should make my manuscript better. Then I end up with an explosion and go off to read some Agatha Christie because murder always makes me feel better after editing, or trying to edit.
Naturally I know that all of you love EDITING! Oh, how fun! Oh, how many exclamation marks I'm using in this paragraph!
In reality, some people like editing even more than the initial writing process. Some people also like physics and chemistry, but we try not to talk to them too much. And to all my writing brothers and sisters who think that the epitome of writing happiness is sitting down to tear up a beloved manuscript, TELL ME YOUR SECRET.
I'm in a short story writing class right now, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. I am also learning all that editing implies. This class is one of the higher-level CW classes at my university, and I've only taken basic CW so far. (I'm not a CW major, so these classes actually count as electives for me, and I don't have to take them in order. I am so powerful.) I feel majorly underprepaired even though I'm enjoying the class so much. For instance, every time my professor starts going on about publishers and such I start feeling like Calvin.
Disclaimer: I write all my own assignments. It is, however, astonishing how often I can relate to Calvin in other areas. Do I need mental help?
Editing for a class is so much more than editing for yourself. I'm going to hand in my brain-child to a cold-hearted professor who will scribble all over it and make comments that make me feel like a toddler who randomly scratched out gibberish all over a page and called it writing. Hence, I must edit away all possibility of this ever happening. The stress is very real.
When I actually hunker down to editing, though, I can hardly bear to change what I've written. I know it's bad, but it's mine. I sit before my computer, impatiently waiting for the editing muse to come along and give me some ideas.
I'm pretty sure that editing doesn't have a muse. That's something you have to do all by yourself. I edited my first manuscript for SSW class last week, and it was some of the hardest editing I've ever done. Know what? The assignment was under 200 words. I had 257. When you have to tell a story, however simple, in 200 or fewer words, you have a problem. Each word counts, and has to mean a whole lot. My 257 words meant a lot; I had already stripped the story, or anecdote, down to bare bones. What more could I do?
That's when I found out that editing means pushing yourself to the limit, ruthlessly cutting what you thought was the good stuff. It wasn't. You can make it better. Rather, I can make it better. (I'm preaching to myself. You guys already know all this stuff.)
Honestly, I've read about editing before, and I've found it to be dull reading. Is it because of the way I've approached editing before? I'm not merely butchering my darling, I'm creating a rigid monster. That's how I've always looked at it, but I think I've been taking the wrong approach. What I discovered after I was forced to edit down those words is that the limitations made me do it. What I had when I was finished editing was so much better than the rough draft. It wasn't a rigid monster, it was a good paper.
My professor, one of the harder graders in the department, so I've been told, told me that I had a good story when he gave it back to me today. Editing works, guys.
Honestly, though, I found out something important from all that editing.
I've got to have restrictions and rules. In this case I had a deadline and a tiny word count. The rules were pretty rigid, and it made my writing much better than it would normally be.
That's so hard to replicate in real life when you're editing a novel. You don't necessarily have a deadline or a minimal word count. You don't have a professor breathing down your neck (figuratively, of course) as you frantically cut out whole paragraphs and reconsider word choice. The self-control needed is fantastic.
Oh, and I'm not giving you any specific suggestions for editing, other than saying that restricting yourself is important. Why? If you've been here for any length of time, you know that my pet peeve is lists that tell you exactly how to write your story. I am very much a theorist when it comes to writing, because I believe that each writer must discover how best he works.
All I'm saying is that we (that is, I) need to be strict, strict, strict when it comes to tearing up a ms. I've decided to set personal deadlines for myself because otherwise I'll never get anything done.
But isn't that what everyone's already been telling us all along. I guess we all need to have our own epiphany over the exact same thing.
Thanks for reading, and God bless,