Lines to Love: That DIRTY Four Letter Word
I’m talking about the word EDIT, of course. Actually, I don’t hate the editing process. There are times when it feels like an expletive. And there are times when I utter expletives, but as far as the writing process goes, editing is not all that bad.
If you’re a writer and you disagree, you’re going to have to do what I have had to do every time I hit that wall and find myself hating this part of the process: get over it.
In fact, it was the wise words of Michele Roberts that helped me to do just that.
Writing is re-writing. There’s really a lot of truth in that. After all, until you’ve written your first draft, you haven’t really gotten you feet on the ground (see Lines to Love: Writers Talk Their First Draft post here). The first draft is for no one other than yourself. You write it so you can get to know the characters and what works and what doesn’t work. It’s taking your initial hypothesis and turning it into a theory. Re-writing is the experimentation necessary to turn your theory into a bonafide law. Or, stepping out of metaphor here, a publishable book.
So, you’ve been fruitful and your words have multiplied, but not you must edit. Today’s Lines to Love post is a collection of wise words from writers who have been right where you might be right now. We’ll begin with Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell’s definition of what writing is:
His understanding of writing is not all that different from Michele Roberts’. Writing, it would seem, is re-writing over and over and over again. (Those of us who love writing should be rejoicing here. #goals.)
After those two, I think I need to be encouraged. And, nothing encourages me like when I see a veritable giant admit to the ups and downs of his profession. And they don’t get much bigger than New York Times bestseller, Michael Crichton.
When a titan like Michael Crichton admits that
Re-writing is hard, and
He’s redrafted manuscripts up to and perhaps more than seven times and still be dissatisfied
then I know there’s hope for me. I’m only on my fourth re-write for my first novel. Fingers crossed that I don’t have to redraft it another three times, but, if I find myself having to do that very thing, at least I know I’m in good company.
I also appreciate it when authors give advice on how to approach the editing process. Admittedly, some of these authors serve up their advice with a dose of humor.
Trust Mark Twain to temper hard truth with just the right amount of sardonic wit. Another who follows in the same grimly mocking manner is novelist Hannah Richell:
Of course, there are authors who don’t sugar coat it with laughs or a wry smile. Stephen King’s editing advice is a little hard to swallow, and- as you might expect- violent.
Cut to the bone… Murdering children… It’s going to hurt… Even his editing advice sounds like a blurb from the back of one of his books- horrifying and gruesome. It’s a jagged little pill. But, oh so good. I think I’ve found his words the hardest to apply. Yet, when I have done as he instructs, I have been thoroughly pleased with the results. So… take up your cleaver and hack away, dear writers. Chop-chop.
I know editing is not easy. And, as all the above writerly words have attested, it’s not always fun, either. It requires focus, self-awareness, initiative, and tenacity. However, Rose Tremain provides special and needed insight into the goodness found in redrafting.
How’s that for a silver lining? Editing might not be easy, but it’s better than existential panic. I mean, at least, you’ve got something to work with. Like Jodi Picoult said:
If you’re in the throes of editing, like me, I hope this post encouraged you. If you’re not a writer, I hope it has given you some insight into the trials and tribulations we writerly sorts endure. Though if we’re honest with ourselves, even the worst day of writing beats a day without any.
So, dear writers, what are you working on? And, dear readers, what are you reading now?