Muse Monday: On Editing (again)

Just this last week I and my coauthor sent the working draft of Line & Orbit off to the editor with which we’ll be working at Samhain. We signed contracts about a month ago, but there were a few reasons why it took us an additional month to get a starter draft to the editor, the primary one of which is illustrative, I think, of a lot of how this part of the writing process works, especially when you’re dealing with something long: Editing is never. Fracking. Done.

I mean, at some point it has to be; otherwise nothing ever gets published. But it feels like it’s never done.

I have a real love-hate relationship with editing. I’m a writer first and foremost in the sense that I spew words into white space and sort of hope for the best; editing in a truly rigorous sense doesn’t come naturally to me, though I do a lot of editing as I go. But once I write the ending to a piece, it’s hard for me to go back to it and fiddle around with bits of it; the work as a whole looks and feels too much like, well, a whole to me, and messing with it at all feels sort of dangerous, like I might loosen the wrong string and make the entire thing unravel. The upside to this is that I tend to turn out pretty decent first drafts as  a rule. The downside is that, as I said, editing is tough for me.

One of the keys to dealing with this, I’ve found, is to try to remember that it won’t unravel if I pull bits of it loose; stories can feel woven but they aren’t cloth and they aren’t subject to all of the laws of physics. They’re just words and it’s actually not that difficult to move words around. Moving ideas around can be a good deal harder, but even that is the kind of thing that one can get better at with time and practice. So really one of the best things you can probably do in order to be a better editor is just to put your big-person pants on and do it, while not panicking and also possibly while drinking coffee spiked with a bit of something strong.

This last works really well for me. Your mileage may vary.

The draft that we turned in to Samhain had already been edited extensively, and in fact I’d thought it had been about as tightened as it could be. But we were told that we should do some additional tightening — and in fact had to, under the terms of our contract, since Samhain doesn’t publish anything over 120,ooo words — and imagine my surprise when I still found a lot of use for the figurative red pen. As it turns out, time is illuminating when it comes to editing. Further cuts were made. Some light rewriting got done. And now that the draft is with the editor, we’ll almost certainly be doing extensive additional tweaking.

This is one of the scariest parts of the process for me: waiting to see what other changes we’ll have to make, not knowing exactly how big the job ahead still is. Because just as editing has a way of going on and on long after you feel like it should be done, it’s not always immediately clear how much of it’s going to keep going on and on or which parts will present themselves as issues that need attention. It’s anxiety-making. It’s also unavoidable, if you want to put out the best work possible.

So here I am, waiting to hear back about my baby. One I do, at least I’ll have a better idea of what the next few months will look like. And for better or worse, at least I’ll be getting in a lot of additional editing practice. Which doesn’t make perfect — work can’t ever really be perfect — but at least it’s baby steps in the right direction.

Updates as they come.

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