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Friday, January 9, 2015

The Editing Albatross

Of all the people who ever try to write a novel, the vast majority don’t succeed because they never finish writing the first draft. But of the few who manage to write “The End,” there is an even greater burden of work waiting: editing.

I call editing an albatross because it is much like a weight tugging at a writer, a constant, always-in-the-back-of-your-mind pull that can spoil happy moments. For serious publication, for any publication for that matter, editing is a necessity and a pain. Editing requires looking into your writing soul with a hard, exact, and brutal eye and amputating any and all imperfections in the work that reflects that soul. And it’s something many writers would rather do without.

To the beginner, it’s easily overwhelming. Where do you start? When do you stop? What sorts of things do you need to edit? Do you need to get feedback from someone else? Do you really have to hack away that beautifully crafted sentence? What do you mean there isn’t enough tension/character development/action? What do you mean the hero is unlikeable; I understand and like him just fine! Do you really have to get rid of all those being verbs?

To the experienced, editing is part of the process, but it is a slog most of the time. It would be so nice if that first draft could be the end of things. But we know that the final result after multiple edits really makes for a superior story. Just go back and read your first draft. Odds are, you’ll cringe.

I have a friend who just finished his first book that he’s sitting down to edit. He’s learning the hard way the agony all writers must endure. Editing usually takes far longer than one would hope. It’s usually far more complicated than expected as well, especially for someone who hasn’t developed their own process and gone through the editing obstacle course a few times. When he was writing, he always spoke of his project with enthusiasm. Now that he’s hit the editing phase, that enthusiasm has definitely dampened.

But there’s one thing my friend has that I know will bring him through the difficult part, and it’s the one thing that separates those who fully finish novels, editing and all, from those who stop at first drafts: the determination to finish. Grit you might call it. Grit will get you through the roughest spots, and the good news is that grit can be nurtured and grown. Practice never giving up, look at struggle as part of the process, at failure is just another way to improve, and you’ll develop the grit to truly finish a novel.

For those writers who enjoy editing, the rest of us envy you.

So once you write “The End,” be prepared for the easy part to be over. From there on out, it’ll take even more determination to take a messy first draft into a polished work of literature that sparkles.

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