If you are reading this message, then I am dead.
No. Hang on, not dead. I meant to say “editing”.
I have a fraught relationship with editing, which boils down to:
- I really hate editing my own work, but
- My work really needs editing, but
- I don’t want to because it’s HAAAAAARDDDD, so
- I procrastinate enormously, but
- Procrastination makes me feel guilt and shame at my own laziness, so
- I tend to associate the process of editing with the emotional response of feeling guilt and shame.
Now, having compiled that list I will own up to being an enormous hypocrite, since it maps more or less exactly to the daily saga of getting my youngest child to drink prune juice for her digestion. It’s the exact same battle every day, and I know – I KNOW – I shouldn’t be giving her grief about doing something for her own good while simultaneously mewling piteously about how hard editing is. Harden up, Dad!
Listen, I’m comfortable with my parental hypocrisy. It’s a skill I’ve been developing for years, mostly by eating far too much chocolate.
Ahem. Back to the point: for the past couple of weeks I’ve been working with an editor.
As part of his coursework for a certificate in editing, a friend is doing end to end production on a short story anthology. The final product will not actually be published – there’s no budget attached to this assignment. But he put out the call to his fellow writers to dig up abandon stories for him to practice his editing skills on. A bit like literary grave-robbing for Victor Frankenstein’s Quarterly Journal.
By pure chance *cough* I happen to have several completely busted stories taking up valuable space in my Dropbox. I picked one that was…well, expressions like “horrible train wreck” are so inflammatory, so let’s exercise undue kindness in calling it “challenging”.
(It was a half-good story idea bolted onto overly dramatic and yet tediously inactive characters, to be duly unkind).
Together we reworked the concept into a new outline, on which we went back and forth a couple of times until we agreed on the story structure. Then I rewrote it from scratch – I think I kept about one paragraph from the original manuscript (which is incidentally in danger of being cut from the final rewrite).
The editor hit the manuscript with the red pen, calling me out for my incoherent descriptions, inappropriate metaphors and occasional incomplete sentences.
Together we made some useful discoveries: I use “as” way too much in the construction of run-on sentences. I write too many run-on sentences. If left to their own devices, my characters all try to talk like the Narrator from The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.
(None of these are revelations, by the way. I know I do it. I just have a bind spot about how often I do it).
So after a couple of editing passes, we’ve turned a demonstrably terrible story – no false modesty here, the original version was just garbage – into a pretty good one. It might be commercial, or it might not. Either way it’s considerably better for the editing work that’s been done on it.
I might be starting to come around on this whole “editing” thing. I begin to see the advantages of a bit of good old fashioned script doctoring.
Just as well, too. There’s a novel manuscript lying next to me complaining about its dangling plot threads, undernourished characters and a serious infestation of run-on sentences.
Time for a little light surgery.