You’ve caught me at a bad time. I’m involved in the one thing I dislike about writing. No, that’s not descriptive enough. Given the choice between this activity and sticking a very long, pointy needle through the corner of my eye, I would choose the eye treatment.
I had no idea until embarking on this part of novel writing that it would be my kryptonite. Each time I attempt it, I feel like I’m stumbling and falling. After finishing the first draft of my novel, I breathed a sigh of relief—such a tough thing to do. But nobody told me that that was the easiest part.
It seemed hard at the time. Some days facing the blank page of the manuscript's first draft were terrifying; so much so, I would avoid it at all costs. Toilet cleaning and vacuuming moved swiftly higher on my priority list.
There was even one section, where I had nowhere to go. This is writer’s block, isn’t it? I thought. I did know where I wanted to go; I just couldn’t find the way. Its times like this you wish you could just write,—characters go through some stuff here (imagine pointing arrows) then after a few chapters they end up here (more arrows) where the final climatic scene brings us to the satisfying end (big X).
But it wasn’t writer’s block. There was just one week where I walked into walls, a touch vague, but I found my way. I survived it and so did my characters. In the end I didn’t need the arrows.
As I typed The End, as any author can tell you, an overwhelming sense of achievement came over me. Typing those two words is an exhilarating feeling. There were tears and celebrations. I’d done it.
The Big Problem
My friends asked, ‘When can we read your book?’
‘I’m just putting it away for a few months to marinate,’ I said. ‘Then I will edit it and it should be ready to go in about three months, which is how long it took me to write it.’
Move ahead four months and I’m only half way through the second draft. Take out a month where the kids and I were very ill with Whooping Cough—to my surprise vaccinations only last a few years—and in three months I’m only managing around two thousand words a day of editing. And that’s on the days I get to it.
There were a few short stories written in between, much blogging and reviewing of books and film, so it wasn’t as if I had lost my drive to write. No, actually sitting my behind on a chair to face the editing was not as easy as I had first imagined.
I thought it would be like turning up to a day job. You know what needs doing. It’s a technical thing now, not reliant on the unpredictable writing muse. Take out the words you don’t need, colour in the words you do. No more wondering what comes next. No writer’s block to fear. No stress.
What puzzles me about my aversion to editing is that I know exactly what I am doing with it. In the past year, having written eleven short stories to competition word counts, I have edited each one to within an inch of its life. Some of them were flash fiction with word counts less than a thousand words. The fewer words you have, the more difficult it is to create a fulfilling story with a twist at the end.
All of my short stories in first draft were a minimum twenty per cent over, meaning I needed to be ruthless in the editing. In a five hundred word flash fiction, I studied every single word for necessity. It was tough and that one took me at least ten passes to get there.
But these short stories only took a few days to edit. When it comes to a book well, there are weeks and months of editing and rewriting. Then once I’ve completed the first draft I know there are probably three more drafts waiting for me.
I’ve analysed this problem—too much according to my husband—and I think it comes down to my preference for right brain thinking. Apparently, you write with your creative right-brain and editing is the domain of the left-brain.
I don’t like that left brain much. It’s the rational one that does all the analysing; most likely the one writing this now. They’re a bit dry for me and I always feel their solid hands on my shoulders, insisting my feet should not be floating that far from the ground. So it is understandable I don’t want to spend much of my exhilarating writing time listening to them analyzing my beautiful right brain prose.
My other issue is I already have the next book ready to go, first chapter written, and story bubbling in my head, right brain side. But starting a new book is my reward for finishing this book. It’s the carrot and the whip. The new book is dangling tantalisingly before me, and behind me is left brain demanding I finish what I’ve started. They have a guilt whip and aren’t afraid to use it.
As much as I don’t like left brain guy—they’re very bossy. I respect their determination and discipline. Left-brain was the one who sat me down at the computer and got the first book finished when I wasn’t certain it was doable.
Still, I don’t like the job right now. It feels like cleaning, dusting and mopping, after a brilliant time was had by all at the night before party. I just want to party with right brain. They’re light and breezy and take me on wonderful adventures to destinations unknown.
I’ve had offers from freelance editors to help with the mopping. But only I can rewrite the character at the beginning into the character he becomes at the end. By the end of the book, I knew a lot more about him. So he needs some colouring and shading before he faces the challenges only I know are coming his way.
Many writers have difficulty in other areas—coming up with story lines, characters, dialogue, and the daily discipline. But that’s not my stumbling block. My challenges have never lain in creating story ideas, characters, or twisted endings. Words fly off my fingertips at quite a pace. Give me four hours and I’ll give you five thousand reasonable words. No, my Achilles heel is the editing.
So what am I to do?
Keep going. That’s all I can do. The book needs polishing—even right brain agrees. Apologise to my friends who are asking to read the book. ‘Sorry, I have a spoilt right brain that is not co-operating’.
I am trying to change my attitude, as all writers must when faced with their Achilles heel. From now on, I will face the manuscript and repeat, ‘I like editing. Editing is good.’ Even if I don’t believe it, I know the only way to the end is the way I started; one word at a time, one page at a time, one chapter at a time.
And then one day soon, after I’ve finished my Cinderella work, right brain and I can put on our glass slippers and come dance at the ball.
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