Flawed Instrumentation: First Thoughts on a Late Edit

I’m starting another round of edits on my novel, and the pain just comes washing in.

With early edits, that pain was the raw, gnarly hurt of recognizing that I’d written a broken thing; a creature whose own limbs would pull it off balance if ever it tried to walk. The narrative was fragmented. Timelines didn’t add up. Characters would vanish for no apparent reason and reappear just as suddenly with no explanation. Look, no writer sits down and creates a perfect story out of nothingness in an afternoon. (Though, somehow, that’s certainly a misconception I’ve held, and I imagine others do too — that the greats just sit down and pour unicorns and fairy dust out of their heads and onto the page, and send it off for immediate publication.) But it’s a hard pill to swallow when you look at your own work and it’s so … let’s not say bad, let’s say, in need of improvement, the way a trauma victim with a sucking chest wound is in need of improvement.

With the latest edit, though, I’m feeling a different kind of pain. Not so much anymore the pain of oh god, what is this monstrosity I’ve created, but more the sharp sting of disappointment. That feeling you get when your kid tells you they did fingerpainting in kindergarten: you expect to see a painting that’s a little blotchy but still a reasonable facsimile of a house or a fish or a dog or a person, but in actuality all you get is a sad, mottled smear. It’s like, yes, you created something and that’s fantastic and adorable and isn’t it wonderful but at the same time, wow, I mean WOW, it’s obvious that you have no talent whatsoever. (Don’t lie and say you haven’t had that thought about your kid’s artwork. The only shining light is that he’s never done anything before, so he was basically guaranteed to suck … you were just holding out hope that maybe your kid was special but surprise, he isn’t!)

I’m about twenty pages in, and my fingers are aching from squeezing the pliers on all the rotted teeth; the blowtorch is sputtering, running out of fuel from searing off all the calamitous verbosity. (Calamitous Verbosity is totally the name of my new band.) I’m reading along and … man, I think the story’s good, but it’s just so cumbersome. So much junk language. So many rambling, do-nothing sentences. So much that’s vague or obvious filler or even worse, a ham-fisted attempt to sound poetic or clever or profound, like an NFL linebacker trying to dance in Swan Lake. It’s like, I can see what you’re going for there, but … no.

What freaks me out is that I already did a polishing pass at the end of my last edit. I read all this over several months back, thought, yep, that sounds like I want it to sound, and stamped it for approval. So now, I’m faced not with the regular, looming specter of self doubt that goes along with all writing, but with the deeper, insidious doubt of wondering whether I ever doubted myself enough in the first place. I once thought this thing was good, and I can now see it was not.


That’s a harsh pill to swallow. I feel like I’m flying in an airplane, and I can look out the window and clearly see the ground a few hundred feet below, but all the instrumentation is telling me I’m thousands of feet up.

Two ways, then, to look at this situation, I think:

  1. My instrumentation is flawed and not to be trusted, ever.
  2. My instrumentation is flawed but improving.

Maybe I got a bad reading before, but I’ve got a better reading now. Maybe when I did those first edits, I hadn’t allowed enough time to pass to get a real, solid, objective look at the thing.

Or, maybe (how dare I even dare to think it) I’ve gotten better in the interim, and I legitimately am looking back at the admittedly inferior work of a fledgling writer, having learned a few things, having a little bit stronger sensibility.

Or, further maybe still, maybe the thing really is just a steaming pile of sharknado.

Difficult to say at this point.