Being that I never really took my writing all that seriously before (at least, not when I was old enough to *actually* take it seriously. Sixth grade doesn’t count), I didn’t really have a method in place for editing. In college, my idea of editing creative writing was to take all the copies of my work that were given back to me in workshops, go through, and make a few changes. I really didn’t put a lot of time and effort into it. I attribute this to many things, and as I’ve mentioned before, a lot of it had to do with losing that spark (on account of being a busy college student and also coming to despise the egomaniac who was teaching the majority of my fiction classes). I never went back through and took a good look at what I’d written because I never cared much about most of it. I only really remember a handful of pieces.
The whole time I was writing my NaNoWriMo novel, I didn’t think about editing. My goal was just to get to 50,000 words. Once I made it there, my goal became to actually finish writing it. I was a little unsure for a while, but when it became clear that I was going to finish writing it, I started thinking about editing. I guess my pattern of decision-making has been kind of linear in that respect. I ended up leading myself right into a process of editing that I hadn’t considered, but it’s working out really well for me. It’s forcing me to not only go back through my work, but to interact with it, as well.
When I decided to edit, I figured that I really only cared enough to do one round, and that was mostly as a courtesy to the few people I’d agreed to allow to read it. I knew that, because I hadn’t done any editing of any kind while writing, there were parts there were out of order and didn’t make sense the way they were currently written. I’ve sat in on a lot of workshops and my skin is pretty tough when it comes to hearing feedback and receiving constructive criticism (keyword: constructive) regarding my work. In fact, I hate it when someone reads something I’ve written and just says “It’s good. I like it.” I mean, I’m glad you like it, but that’s all you can say about it? Surely there’s something wrong somewhere. Perfect drafts don’t exist.
Still, there’s always that part of me that is deathly afraid to let someone close to me read something I’ve worked so hard on because I feel like if they absolute abhor it, they’re also hating a part of me. It’s really difficult to not take it personally. The NaNoWriMo novel has been particularly tough because my subject matter deals with character types and issues that aren’t really my style at all, and so I know it’s not going to be what people expect from me. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though. It’s just a different side. However, knowing ahead of time that I had a few readers at the end forced me to consider audience in general, which is something else I’ve never really taken the time to do. I had to think about how a reader – any reader – would perceive my story. Of course I know what I’m trying to say, but do they? And so my consideration of that, in turn, forced me to work on craft. All that, just from deciding that I had to edit.
When it came time to actually embark upon said edits, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it on a computer screen. I didn’t want to be scrolling back and forth through 260 pages trying to copy and paste things. I needed to actually get in there and make a mess. Maybe it’s the English major or the writing tutor in me, I don’t know what it is, but I feel compelled to mark everything. When I was teaching, this freaked my students out because even the good papers would come back covered in brightly colored ink. I bought myself a new flash drive and saved the novel, took it to a copy shop, and shelled out $25 to have it printed and bound. I bought myself some new purple editing pens (if you’re looking for really good pens, try Pentel EnerGels with the needle tip. I think I’m in love), and I set off to work.
About 80 pages in, I burned myself out. Sure, I was learning a lot about my novel by reading it. I had Post-It notes stuck all over pages and scenes rerouted. I had notes scribbled in the margins and on more Post-Its in the back cover. It was a good and totally necessary experience. It was just so time-consuming. I started to hate the story. Thankfully, I have a few people who kept after me to keep working. Getting through the middle section was kind of brutal, but as the end came into sight, it got easier. The plan was to take those paper edits, open up the original document, and then go in and make changes – just like I’d done in college.
I quickly realized that I couldn’t allow myself to do that. That was kind of a cop out. Instead, I flipped that manuscript back to page one and opened a brand new blank document, and I started typing. By the time I was about five pages in, I realized something awesome. Not only was I making the corrections that I’d written into the paper copy, but I was finding things that I’d missed. I’d started, for all intents and purposes, my third reading. You know how reading a book (or watching a good movie) more than once will always show you things you missed before? That’s what I’m finding here. It’s not just things I’ve missed though. I’m about 55-60 pages in, and I’ve already added about three pages worth of new material. I realized there were areas that needed more description or certain parts of the plot needed to be further developed. Yeah, typing it back out is kind of a pain (literally – some nights my fingers actually hurt by the time I’m done), but for me, it’s totally worth it. Better still, I’ve been working on it – at least a few pages – every single night. I haven’t felt like I’ve needed to force myself to work. I have a renewed excitement for this piece, and that’s made the editing (dare I say it?) fun.
We’ll see how that middle section goes.