Editing a novel is not what you think it will be. At least, it hasn’t been what I thought it would be.
I’m about two months deep in the first edit of my draft, and the process has been instructive. Too tentative to wade in with a blowtorch and sledgehammer, I re-read the whole thing slowly, making notes and fixing window dressings, delaying the moment when I’d have to start gutting the structure of the thing, but that time is here, now. I’m about a week deep, and I’m learning some things.
These things are by no means exhaustive, nor do I claim they’re universal–they’re simply some things which have occurred to me throughout the process.
- Rewriting is like writing, inverted. Drafting the first draft was a linear task. 1200 words a day, which I could crank out in an hour or so most days. Make the quota and feel super-duper about myself for the rest of the day. Miss the quota and feel like a schlub until I could scramble another twenty minutes later in the day, or crank out more wordcount the next day. But rewriting is an entirely different animal. It’s not just a scramble to get more words down on the page. It’s a scramble to cut out the dead wood. To quote Arachnophobia, “cut out dead wood. Put in good wood.” But that’s a tricky thing to measure. “Okay, I drafted three hundred new words today, but do I include the two hundred I cut out? Or the two thousand I had to re-parse to make sure it still made sense? Or the hour I spent kicking the idea around in my head before I decided to try it in the first place?” I know I’ve spent similar amounts of time on the work as I did in the draft, but the yardstick is out the window.
- A bull in a china shop, blindfolded, and on speed. I’ve no idea if the changes I’m making are good ones. When I drafted this thing the first time around I felt more or less confident that the ideas and the progression of the novel were generally sound. Now the jungle has grown thick around me, my map has been swallowed by the raging river, and the slitherers in the night are closing in. Every change I make is a flail toward what I think is the way out, but I have no way of knowing if I’m heading toward the light or further into the depths. The best I can do is trust to my instincts, which have in no way proved that they are trustworthy yet. It’s harrowing.
- Motivation is scarce as desert rain. Again, contrast with the draft is the only thing that makes sense. The draft developed a momentum of its own. I wanted to work on it every day. Some days the 1200 word quota passed so quickly I felt like I was selling myself short to write so little. In the edit, I almost feel–dread is the wrong word–certainly an aversion to working on the story. I still want to work on it, but I’m hesitant to begin every day. Partially it’s a feeling of lost-ness, of not knowing where to begin or where to turn next, partially it’s a fear that I’m going to break the damn thing like a priceless Ming dynasty vase and never be able to put it right again. One way or another, I struggle to start, and the starting is the hardest part.
- Doubt, doubt, doubt. The draft was riddled with doubt, make no mistake. “Is the story any good, does this character make sense, is this plotline as convoluted as it feels?” Now, as I make changes, the same doubts rear their heads: “is the new story any good, does this action by the character make better sense, have I de-convoluted that plotline any?” But the new doubts don’t replace the old. They move in, cohabitate, and start multiplying like rabbits, giving rise to entirely new doubts: “should I have made that change? Is the new story or the old more reader-friendly? Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” Perhaps if there was a way to monetize doubt, this could all OMG BRB I HAVE TO WRITE THAT DOWN AS AN IDEA FOR A BOOK.
- Inspiration from unexpected places. All the gripes aside, I do seem to see the story in a new way every day. Just today, for example, I was absolutely stonewalled and had no idea how to fix a problem in the second act. In a panic I penned a hasty cry for help to a friend, but no sooner had I written the problem out than my brain saw the component parts of the problem, rearranged them with some strange mental geometry, and synthesized a perfectly sensible and perhaps even obvious solution. Said solution even strengthens the story and deepens the development of a character who sorely needs developing. Sometimes you eat the b’ar, as they say.
I think that’s enough commentary on the edit for now. I’ve certainly done a lot of that lately, but in my defense, the edit is looming rather large in my viewfinders. But I’ve got a week off from work coming up, so hopefully I’ll get the chance to mentally clear the pipes a bit and get some good work done on it.
In the meantime, for my next entry, I think I’ll go back to a topic guaranteed to simultaneously gain AND lose readers for the blarg here: toddler bodily fluids. Fun fact: one of the most viewed, and the most-searched topics that lands new people at the blarg, is this post about giving my son an enema. Which goes to show, I guess, that my novel needs more poop jokes.
This post is part of SoCS.