Editing is painful.
Let’s hold hands and repeat that together, “Editing is painful.”
Editing is when we take off our writer glasses and put on our reader glasses.
On Wednesday, Sharon advised a break between writing and editing your work. A couple of weeks, or more. Why? Because it takes weeks to pry those writer glasses off your face. Only time will help you forget what you meant to say, and see what you actually said.
The space between have written and reading with fresh eyes is a painful leap. It means letting go of your work and approaching it with with the dispassion of the marketplace. Word weeding, yes, but also being frank about what doesn’t work in the story. We’re talking painful on the level of major surgery.
Mentally and emotionally, the author divorces herself from the work. It’s no longer a love relationship. It’s the cold stare of the clinician. Wimpy character? Scalpel! Unrealistic plot twist? Call in orthopedics! Cliched ending? Crack open those ribs - it’s time for a heart transplant!
And then, having discovered what is wrong with the novel, one must have the chops to address it. Change it. Re-write it. How far are you willing to go to take your story from good to great? Five thousand words? Ten? More, I hope.
When writing my debut, Talking to the Dead, I was asked to write a sequel. I was forty thousand words into that sequel when my editor said, “We need to make Talking to the Dead a stand alone.” She had lots of reasons. All of them correct. We made the novel a stand alone. Oh, and while we were at it, the ending didn’t work any more. Between rewrites and the scraped sequel the word count on the chopping block topped sixty thousand.
Did I mention editing is painful?
How many of those words do I regret editing? Zero. It was worth all the pain, all the effort it took to view my work through the glasses of a reader, rather than a writer.
Anais Nin said, “We write to taste life twice.”
If that it true, then editing is tasting the same bit of life seven nights a week for months. You don’t quit until the flavor is exquisite.
So, let us embrace the painful truth of editing. We can and will achieve brilliance, but not the first time we set our pen to paper. Brilliance comes only with intentional effort.
"Will you tell me my fault, frankly as to yourself, for I had rather wince, than die. Men do not call the surgeon to commend the bone, but to set it, Sir." ~Emily Dickinson
Do you have a surgical scar to share? What bones have been set in your writing? What has helped you face the cold hard facts about your work and then be able to set it straight?