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Writing vs. Editing

On Monday, I finished the first draft of my new novel for the 10+ age group. (No time to blog with that on my plate.) As I was writing the last scenes, I brimmed with excitement, tears, sighs, joy, wonder, etc. The words, “I love it!” kept bubbling out of me, often accompanied by sniffles and smiles. My family just patiently nodded. They are used to my moods. 

I am taking a week away from the book before facing it with my editor’s hat on my head. I peeked at the draft yesterday and, yikes, it’s a mess. There is such a chasm between the drafting phase (intense, replete with flowing tears and pumping heart) and the revising phase (cold, replete with confused frown and tapping fingertips). I need a few more days before I can face that.

I’m going away on vacation. The book will be here when I get back. (Part of me worries, “What if the plane goes down and somebody finds that draft? After I’ve claimed to love it so much? How embarrassing.” No, I simply must live long enough to edit the thing.) I know it will be a disappointing read. So much work lies ahead of me – at least as much as I’ve already done. But I’ll find gems in the draft, I’m sure of that. Bright enough to keep me polishing the whole thing to a shine.

I spent the rest of this week putting the final polish on a chapter book I mentioned in my blog on nursery rhymes. This is inspiring work. The book is completely finished (i.e., to the point where I read it through and don’t want to change a thing) and I absolutely love it. Of course, I loved it when I drafted it six months ago (“This is so original, so captivating!”). But I REALLY did not love it when I first faced the editing process (“This is moronic. What was I thinking?”). It had a tiny kernel of a gem, which I have polished and fussed with and moved around and scraped and buffed so many times that I’ve come back to my original position of loving it, but with a more realistic affection. (“This is good. Someone will enjoy this.”) This gives me hope for the editing process I’m about to face on my longer novel.

I’ve come to think that writing is like love affairs. The drafting is heady and world-changing. You’ve never felt this way before about a piece of writing and you know you’ll never feel this way again. You can’t stop thinking about it. You’re an emotional basketcase. You need it so badly. It’s the best thing that ever happened to you.

Then the honeymoon’s over. You come down from the clouds and take a really good look at that first draft. Was it always this awkward? Where’s the wit and charm that swept you off your feet? It just sits there, too tired to take you dancing. And, boy, it could use a shave.

If you can get over that moment, you must begin to work on the relationship. (If it’s worth it. Some books are just not worth finishing, sad to say. Fun while it lasted. Time to move on.) A good marriage begins with accepting your draft for what it is. Probably not the greatest thing ever written. Certainly not as good as it could be. But maybe something worth keeping, worth appreciating, worth staying together and working on. 

And so you’re on the road to happiness, you and your draft. But it’s a road you have to flatten as you go. This book is going to bug you. You really won’t like it half the time. But keep focused. Stick with it. Think of the children. Start a thankfulness journal. Whatever it takes. Just keep working on it. You’ll fall in love again one day.

It’s hard to put on the editor’s hat but it’s necessary if you want anyone else to fall in love with your book. (That’s where the love affair comparison ends – nobody preps their spouse for the next partner, do they?) You have to cut out all the stupid bits and many of the clever bits, too. You have to justify the presence of every scene, keep a consistent point of view, give each character their own voice, and thirty-seven other tips for effective writing. You have to read it SO MANY TIMES, rethinking, rearranging, revising. Then once you get the framework right, you have to work on the actual lines. All of them. Egads. It’s so much work.

I’ve never been to marriage counselling but if it’s anything like editing, I don’t think I could handle it.

Soon I will become a brutal but sympathetic editor of a sloppy but mildly entertaining first draft. But for the next week, at least, I will remain head over heels in love.

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