When I was in fourth grade, my teacher read to us a picture book about the Iditarod, or snow-dog racing in Alaska. I don’t remember the title, but it focused on one of the Huskies and how he overcame challenges. Obviously I don’t remember the plot very well, but I do remember it had a lot of pretty pictures and at the time I thought it was a good story.
Then she told us that the author had re-written it something like well over twenty times before he was able to find a publisher. I distinctly remember my fourth-grader mind thinking, “Wow. That’s so boring. I’d never want to be an author.”
And who could blame me? I was in the fourth grade. The thought of re-reading a paragraph even twice was painful. Re-reading? Editing? Who needed that?
So I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose, to discover after writing my first manuscript that I had absolutely no clue what editing really meant. I thought I did, after all I re-read it and had others look over it for me and changed the phrasing here and there to make it stronger, but all I was really doing was a series of line-edits. I wasn’t re-writing. I was polishing.
Let me tell you now, polishing a first draft (unless it’s some kind of spectacularly AMAZING first draft) is like trying to buff a rock with a sponge. Sure, you’ll get some of the dirt off, but no amount of sponge-love is going to make that sucker smooth and shiny and in the end all you really have is a wet rock.
I don’t want to talk to you about what the right way to edit is, because I don’t think there is just one way to do it and to be honest, I haven’t really perfected the process yet myself. I’m still learning.
I do think, however, that a lot of it has to do with the mindset you go into it with. If you open up your WIP (and I don’t care what draft you’re on) thinking, “Ugh, this is going to suck,” then guess what? It’s going to suck. It’ll take forever, your eyes will probably glaze over a few pages in and you’re not going to catch much.
Like anything else, it takes the right mindset.
Editing isn’t always fun, in fact especially if you’ve already done a few drafts, it’s often not fun at all. But if you don’t learn to love editing (or at least kinda like it), it’s going to be a very long road ahead. Remember that with every edit you’re making your manuscript better. With every draft, you’re bringing it closer to the shelves.
No, it’s not the easiest process in the world, but it can be exciting. With every change you’re chipping away at that rock to pull out the diamond inside. It’s there, you felt it at the very beginning, when you first began this venture of writing a novel, you just have to find it.
Then, when you reach THE END that final time, you’ll know it’s ready. You’ll feel it, and you can let it go and show that diamond off to the world.
What is your favorite/least favorite part of editing?