I’ve read about three hundred blog posts and articles and comments on editing your novel and come to the conclusion that it’s just time to jump in the deep end and get on with it. No sense in beleaguering the issue and putting it off — I had a secret goal to complete this novel within the span of a year, and if that’s going to happen, it’s time to get on the stick. Leading up to it, I was terrified. Sure I’d be unable to identify the errors or that I would wrongly let the crappy stuff slide through or worse, that I’d stomp out the good bits.
Well, I’m three days in. The water was a shock at first, but I’m acclimating fast. I’ve no idea if I’m doing it properly or not. Basically I’m reading the first draft, jotting notes on a to-do list, and trying to track the major developments to make sure they make sense. I’m also tidying up the copy as I go, fixing the finicky bits and cleaning up obvious errors and boring prose.
Some of the stuff that needs attention jumps out at me. I overused the HELL out of the “sigh”, be it the exasperated sigh, the relieved sigh, the boy-that-turned-out-exactly-the-way-I-expected sigh. So a lot of those sighs are in serious need of makeovers. If there’s a better, cleaner, more interesting solution that comes ready to mind, I fix it. If not, I highlight it for attention on the next pass. There’s also some occasional redundancy that I wouldn’t have necessarily expected from myself — hey, everybody thinks he writes pretty decently and clearly the first time through, right? — which is easy enough to fix. Like, I encountered a sentence today that said something along the lines of, “He picked up the glass and took a sip as he picked up the glass.” Past me, in full-on Id-Writer mode, wrote that, thinking it was, you know, not total nonsense. I guess the flow of the first draft isn’t always so clear and collected.
Then there’s other stuff that hides in the weeds, hoping I’ll glide past without noticing it. I parsed a sentence wherein my hero “sat down at his desk, clutching her note in his hand,” and was about to keep on reading when I realized there had been no mention of a note in previous pages. I asked the Id-Writer about it and he produced some vague snarls and growls that might have communicated something about a note and how it ended up in the hero’s possession, but it was about as easy to decipher as a bunch of feathers and teeth cast on a scrying table. There are portions of the draft where Past Me left a trail of breadcrumbs for Future Me (now, I guess, Present Me) to follow: “go back and write in a scene where he cuts off the finger of his greatest rival,” for instance. This was not one of those times. So I’m in the dark about whatever brilliant idea I thought I had at the moment I was having it, and now I get to go prowling through the woods after it with the dim flashlight of my dubious memory.
The upshot of the process so far (and I know, I know, I’m a whopping three days in, what do I know yet about upshots — the sharknado hasn’t even speculated about the eventuality of getting real yet) is that I feel like I’m doing a pretty solid job of stomping out the charred, overcooked bits of prose where I was obviously buzzing the tower. There haven’t been a lot of them — yet — but there are passages that stick out like a thumb that was hit with a hammer, treated with salve, became infected when the salve entered the bloodstream through a papercut, and then got hit with a hammer again. Obviously out of character for the story or even for me. There have literally been moments when I sat at the desk wondering if it was really possible that I wrote the words on the page in front of me, even though to think otherwise is ludicrous. But then I think about that Id-Writer on his chain in the unlit basement and I recall those days when I’d churn out a thousand, or twelve hundred, or sixteen hundred words without even realizing the passage of time…
Not to make light of a serious mental condition, but I am starting to wonder, are writers in general as schizophrenic as I feel? I honestly feel that the first draft of this novel was a conglomeration whacked together by not just me, but by three or four different versions of me, each with a different sense of humor, sense of timing, sense of language. Then I wonder if that fragmented perception is a strike against the novel intrinsically (the story itself is fraught with problems that make it feel fragmented) or against the Me that wrote it in the first place (I’m fragmented as a writer because I don’t know myself or my voice or how to even tell a fargoing story yet). Then I wonder if I’m not overthinking the whole thing (not that I’d ever be guilty of that) or even using parentheses too much (as if that were even possible).
All this, and I’m all of, oh, about six thousand words into the draft. It feels like the start of a long road trip in a car with a gaggle of mildly psychotic socially inept know-it-alls. Except in this metaphor, the radio is busted so we’ve got nothing to do but listen to each other kvell about the various problems with the blah blah blah and what each of us would do to fix the yada yada yada and what we really like about the et cetera. And it’s a long fargoing way to Vegas.
Not sure why we’re headed to Vegas in this metaphor, but it felt right. What happens in the editing mobile stays in the editing mobile, unless somebody dies or vomits. Then we stop for air fresheners.