This weekend, another writer pointed out to me that I hadn’t written a blog post in a long time. A LONG time. And my only excuse is that I’m editing. And what can you say about editing that’s interesting? People want news of ends and beginnings, “done’s” and “begun’s” and not so much about the middle. Middles are process and not so newsworthy. And sometimes the middles take a long, long time.
But, come to think of it, what is editing, anyway? We bandy the term about, but what do we mean? Sometimes we say we’re editing, because it’s a last draft and we’re looking at every word with a big red pen. This is painful, picky editing, the last of the last of the drafts. Sometimes we’re really rewriting, but saying editing sounds more “done”. Edits can be structural, looking at the whole of the thing, or line-by-line, or sometimes it’s something in the middle, working through the elements of the novel one by one: character by character, plot, story arcs, details, time. It can be very hard to edit everything all at once, but everything has to get edited, eventually.
Edits happen by standing back as well as by zooming in. Edits happen, sometimes, with editors who help you see your book with fresh eyes. Too many drafts and you can’t see the story for the words. Editor-less, there are lots of books on self-editing. I have quite a number on my shelves that I flip through, now and again, sure that I’m forgetting something crucial, something simple, some key that will turn the whole of the thing around in a snap. Am I showing more than telling in the right places? Is Chapter 1 the story’s beginning? Are all the elements there and in the right place, in the right order? Have I got to grips with this story I want to tell?
I’ve lost count of drafts I’ve done now, but it is a healthy stack. I’m a messy writer, slapping rough drafts together, draft after draft. I trained as a playwright and I still look at writing as if I’m building a chair or a boat. At first, I only want it to hold together, to keep the water out. I don’t worry about sanding or polishing it for a long time. That’s just my process. So, when I say editing I mean I’m very near the end. Now, I’m looking at the whole of the thing, the boat that’s ready to leave the port. And I’m also picking away at it with sandpaper, smoothing away bits I don’t need anymore or sanding away at transitions, easing it toward being a better read. I’m now at the point when I’m checking the winds and the weather at sea. Soon, I’ll set sail. Soon. But until then, I’m editing. If you’d like to talk more about editing, why not join me at the WhitLit Writers Day?