We talk a lot about writers block and what to do about it. All the different tips and tricks, and outright clownish tom-foolery in order to just sit down and shuffle twenty six letters until we can finally finish the fugly dumpster fire we somehow have to convince people to love as much as we do.
Anyone who’s written more than a few pieces, or those *naughty* individuals who edit as they go, know the eye peeling, ear gouging hatred of sitting down to edit your own work. It feels like you’re in a shopping mall on Christmas eve during a children’s party with Daft Punk on repeat; Cut it, paste it, check, rewrite it! Fix it, change it, quick, erase it!
You may as well say writers block is like a stroll through The Secret Garden and editing is finding a damn door that raptor claws can’t open in Jurassic Park.
I may be tainted by my experiences of sprint writing all my books in very short order but lets just leave it at this; I don’t get writers block but I have a real issue with editors block at the moment.
I recently figured some ways through this and wanted to share with you some of the philosophies that’ve helped me;
- The BIGGEST problem with editing…
…is that it never feels like it will end, especially when you see everything that’s wrong. You start with an ocean’s frothing waves and the desire to settle it until its still as a reflective lake. Except your editor is an expert surfer and they are there to make waves. Because glossing over all those reefs of mistakes under the surface of your story is only going to make other surfer readers hit shoals you either covered up or worse, didn’t see. And then they wont come to your beach anymore.
So the first thing to do is to fix developmental issues. Plot holes are vortex’s of problems that ripple outward to effect the whole plot. You might end up fixing a bad plot hole only to discover it’s set up effects a sub section of the plot, creating holes where previously it was fine. You might have to do several passes to iron all these out and then you go back to work on other things. Character types/reactions/arc and tropes that don’t flesh out. World building, technology, magic systems, social customs, religions & politics. A tangled ball of wool from an uncontrollable kitten. That kitten is you. You are the asshat who did that to the ball. The editor has to make a jumper out of that you nonce.
There is a steep learning curve the first time you write a book that your first good editor will teach you how to handle. The trouble is there is so much to learn and you’ll probably need a few books for it to start sinking in… or… you know, more than a few.
Look, dont look at my book past, I don’t need that pressure right now.
- THIS IS YOUR WORK
You just finished writing/paid an editor/are contracted for a publisher, to go through and find out everything that’s wrong. Those initial first passes you do fix everything immediately incorrect but its when someone else gives you back their edits that it can really become frightening, like receiving a notice the mail from the tax department.
But they’ve spent the time polishing it and working out what they think is best and now you have to go back and address all those issues. After you’ve already read the script fifty million times and now you’re currently writing a character’s name when you go to write your own.
This isn’t enjoyable, this isn’t even like finding needles in haystacks, this is like shoving both hands into the freezer to find that one tub of double choc ice cream you hid from your spouse. When I get one my scripts back, it’s like one of those horrible rooms in torture porn films even the director decides to cut.
It’s still very important that you respond kindly to someone who has gone to that trouble, to examine what they think thoroughly, take notes, and apply it throughout the entire text so that the next time they have to do that (oh yes, editing gets a sequel horror film – and if you’re lucky, a trilogy), it will be easier. For them, and for you.
Remember, they are trying to help you do better, to get your story right the way you saw it in your head to the way it should be on the page. The best thing you can do is embrace the changes when they come back to you, that someone understood your garbled dreams and said yes.
- There is never ONE final edit – resign yourself to having a reader find a mistake
For those of you who don’t know me on twitter or in real life or who weren’t paying attention, I am sometimes a little smug vengeful bitch and none moreso when I see a traditionally published book come out from a famous and well respected author that has a mistake…
It’s a golden ah-HA! moment that I wont take back for the world, and mostly because it makes them human too, it means they make mistakes, and suddenly an impossible part of whether I can do this too becomes less intimidating.
And then I go back to loving the author and thinking their story is wonderful.
Its such a small moment, but it proves that they are human and that’s important.
This can be quite an envious market, a particular green elephant in the room Ive dipped into for another blog post, but it has relevancy when it comes to editing.
One of the key complaints in the self-pub/indie market is the propensity for these mistakes, how frequent they are, and that trad books don’t have that. Mostly because about six dozen more sets of eyes go over the book.
And if you are working with more than one editor or person who is actually changing the script, there is no guarantee that the editor is the one who’s made the mistake. (NEVER POINT THIS OUT TO THE EDITOR – I HAVE YET TO DISCOVER WHAT IT WILL DO AND REFUSE TO PUSH THAT PARTICULAR END OF THE WORLD BUTTON). (Also to all my editors… this wasn’t you, this was that other editor, honest, and could you please stop stalking my blog).
So there may be mistakes, little things, but if an author has done their due diligence there should be very few of them, or enough to be forgiven and just get on with the story.
What bugs me about self publishing is when authors don’t do their level best, and I recently wrote a blog post on the level of editing I expect when I buy a book. Any book. I’ll forgive a few mistakes, or a difference in spelling, or a specific punctuation choice. What I wont forgive is no effort at all to do this, which is why I go above and beyond to do as much as possible.
Having said all of that, you will still miss something. A reader will find it, point it out to you. They’ll even be nice about it.
And you know what? The world doesn’t end. Trust me. No, shut up, and get out of your end of world bunker!
This is a good life lesson too, if you resign yourself that something may go wrong, when it does it ceases to matter nearly as much and you can relearn how to breath. It was the only way I survived my wedding day and several international holidays.
At the end of the day this book is going to be like anything else you do in life; put as much of yourself in it as you possibly can, get outside advice if its not working or you’re struggling, ask for help where you can, and know that it may never be as perfect as you want it to be because nothing ever is.
I currently have 3 scripts to edit, 2 needing serious overhauls that are very intimidating, and one that’s just not as perfect as it needs to be given where its up to. I’ve never had an inner perfectionist before I started writing and finding her an adequate gag has proved a challenge.
So when I have to go back, to ride those waves of edits that ripple through my books I find that once I’ve sat down to do it one thing becomes abundantly clear; I love my stories. I love writing. I actually do love editing, and it’s no longer about smoothing out a lake, its about riding that wave through the story, back and forth, until its the best it can be.
I’ve poured a fantastical tale from my head out of the infinity of nothing and that’s what I want you to see… but my grammar sucks. Maybe you need to flesh out characters. Perhaps someone else has a plot hole.
These things are fixable but like learning to sit down and write, no matter what, sitting down to edit is a challenge too. But one of the ways that I’ve found work best, is to remember why I wrote the story in the first place. Why did you?