I should probably preface this with saying the title of this piece is how I USED to feel about editing. For the newbies out there and the old hands who still hate it, all I can say is that it is a learning process. And it takes TIME.
What I will say is that if you have people in your corner, the ones who will support you no matter what, it will become easier.
Editing... Is a mental process.
Yes, it is a physical process, of course it is. Editing is physically changing words to find something more succinct, finding missing commas - or deleting too many commas (I suffer from this! I think my drafting style is to write like William Shatner is reading my text aloud), talking marks, question marks, plot holes (or discovering your plot has some how fallen into a black hole... the space death of plot if you will). Editing might be reading aloud, reviewing, scanning, rewriting, trunking large swathes ah la The Bush Fire approach, or Critique Partner reading, Beta reading, Alpha reading or just resting a manuscript. Editing is a lot of things to a lot of people. And everyone does it differently.
I truely think you need to do a little of everything. And above all - to LISTEN.
Listen to your manuscript. Listen to your words. Listen to your readers (Alpha, Beta, CP, friend, long suffering family member who doesn't have a choice BUT to read it). Listen. Hear what they are telling you.
But make your own choices about what to implement. You will know. You will FEEL it. (I'll come back to this in a minute.)
I am someone who has found it difficult to let go of my baby. I am also someone who will continue to edit long after I know I should stop.
In the early days, this is a good thing.
Let me tell you about my manuscript. Let's call her Baby One. I wrote Baby One when I was in high school (so many years ago now that I cannot remember that far back). A little something that I wrote because I needed to write. It made me laugh, it made me happy. I loved and was IN LOVE with Baby One. It took me less than six months. I gave her to family and friends to read, only received praise (because they were friends and family) and thought I was amazing. I had written a book! I put it away and "grew up." I got on with my day to day life. University, job and travel. I put away Baby One but never quite forgot about her.
Ten years ago, bored in a job that I did not enjoy, I started to write again. I'd written a book once before. I could do it again. Baby Two took five years or stress, sweat and curses, and was stopped and started so often I am surprised she even makes sense. It was at this point I thought back to Baby One and decided to reread her. I stilled loved her but she had flaws. I went back over her and for the first time thought about actually doing something with her... querying.
Oh what a young fool I was.
Since those early days I have become more serious about my writing and studied writing guides, books on writing by writers, grammar and editing guides and reread Baby One and Two again. Crap. I was awful. The worst writer ever. Why was I even bothering to write...? I was a disgrace.
It took a while to shake off the plague of doubts. I joined a writing community. Found some fabulous CPs and beta readers. And editors (paid) to see the flaws I couldn't see because I was too close to my words.
And the one thing I have learned?
You need distance.
You have to distance yourself from the words. When I first started to edit seriously, I was emotionally distraught each and every time I cut words. When I received commentary or comments about my manuscript, words like "This is the worst thing I have read, you should not consider writing as a full time career" to things not making sense, or dialogue that wasn't working or descriptive passages that were just crap I cried. This was me on a page. It was me they were dissing or hating or confused by. I was angry. Oh so angry.
Again, It took me a while to gather some perspective and put those comments in a judgy box I could close the lid on. I pulled my little cotton socks up and made some changes.
And it was better.
(Let me quickly say, it wasn't the hurtful words that made my writing better - I think some people need more people skills or to learn how to communicate better, and if you ever receive those comments or reviews IGNORE THEM - the good comments, the ones from people who actually cared, mean more to me than I can ever possibly say.)
I cut more, I wrote more, I changed things around and moved chapters forward and back, changed POV, cut characters out and yes, more crying, but again... it was better.
Time went by and I began to see the beauty in my words.
But I also learned that the "words" didn't matter. It was all still mine. It was all still me.
I have rewritten Baby One over a dozen times, rewritten Baby Two almost as often.
And do you know what. I still love Baby One and now Baby Two as much as I did with those first drafts. They have grown, changed, become their own voices and personalities and people I am proud to call mine. They don't resemble what they looked like when I first wrote them at all anymore. But they are still mine. I can still hear the joy in those words. Characters have changed, names have changed, plot has definitely changed. POV shifted, chapters deleted, chapters added... But in my head they are the same.
Editing has made my babies stronger. Every time I have reworked something, it has grown stronger.
So going back to my previous comment about knowing what to implement out of the plethora of suggestions and comments. I think you know what will work and what won't. And if you are not sure, try it. Write that new chapter or paragraph or character. You will know if it doesn't work or if a comment doesn't actually help. If you think the comment is wrong. Don't do it. But don't disregard it out of hand. If a reader has a question in their mind about something, you have to ask yourself WHY they have that question in the first place. Is something missing elsewhere that will clarify this point? No comment is invalid. If you think the comment is wrong, think about why it is wrong? Should you be clearer somewhere else? Was your explanation earlier lacking in something? Just because it is clear to you as the writer doesn't mean it is clear to the reader. And in my case, I had cut so much of the story and rewritten so much I had no idea what I had explained and what was only in my head (because it was explained in an earlier draft that I had now cut). Having readers to call you out and pick you up on this is INVALUABLE. Don't dismiss comments out of hand, (no matter how much they make you want to cry.)
So when do you stop editing? - No really, I am asking you. Help me for god's sake, help me... take it out of my hands!!
For now, Baby Three is done and dusted, Baby Four is in draft form, Babies Five and Six are in progress. And weirdly, I have discovered something. I enjoy editing now.
There I said it. I enjoy editing. I am writing new material now and all I am thinking is, "When I get to editing this, this is going to be amazing!"
I need to go lie down now and have a coffee.
Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen. You can read more of her work on her blog. Look for her on Facebook or Twitter.
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