The pain of editing, the pleasure of the next

Like any activity writing has its rhythms, its flows, ebbs, and tides. There is the idea phase, where a seed takes root, begins to send out tendrils, makes connections, and gradually, very gradually, a concrete shape takes form and presents itself. That is an exciting period, a feverish period, but hardly anything really gets done.

Then there is the initial writing, the first draft, the burst of creative energies that sees words splattered across the canvas, across the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Just get it out! seems to be the only driving mantra, and however carefully plans may have been laid or structures drawn up during the idea stage things have a tendency to shift – perhaps greatly.

Editing. Oh boy, here is where the trouble comes, where the fun ends and the work, the work, the work, sets in and bares its chest, demands to be respected, to be dealt with, to be endured. All of those wounds that were self-inflicted to your preciously tended little sprouting during its riotous first draft growth period now begin to fester and ooze, dripping pus all over your keyboard and desktop. Disgusting. Who wants anything but to wipe that up, toss out the filthy cloth, and try to forget that it ever happened. Except that to do so would of course be to invite disaster.

What is the point of a writing project, anyway? Why commit to something that will not reward you materially and possibly not even emotionally? Why think that you have anything of enough worth to say that it will justify the tens of thousands of hours of labor involved? Why does anyone create anything?

Creation is the most enjoyable part. Where the rubber hits the road, as the saying goes, is in the refining. And it is there that one’s motivation begins to wane. We all know we won’t get rich from our writing – those days, for however short a time historically speaking they might have existed, are long, long gone – but those of us who keep at it have accepted that, and anyway money is hardly everything and almost never worth pursuing for its own sake. We all find our reasons and on we go. Until we hit that wall: editing.

Stuck in the grind of what seems like, and usually is, a process that doubles or triples the primary investment put into the formation of the project, our thoughts begin to go elsewhere. To the next. The next! Without even noticing it another seed has begun to take root, to send out tendrils, to form connections, and a loose, almost phantasmagorical outline. What I’ll do after this… How does a writer react to this phenomenon? Ignore it? Embrace it? Put what one is editing on hold? Shelve it, table it, dump it? None and all of the above, I’d say; any guidelines offered on judging the worth of a project that I could come up with would be so vague as to be meaningless. What is more pertinent, I think, is the act of deciding itself.

Editing is the hardest of hard work, yet it is also extraordinarily important. Crucial even. It is also potentially endless and so some caution is in order not to overdo it. Editing is where all the consequential choices are made and where vision goes from dream to reality. Only you will be able to judge if your current project is worth what a full edit involves, but if it is worth it then surely you have to see the thing through, no matter how tempting those next ideas may be and no matter how many unforeseen rounds it suddenly seems to require. If you’re going to do it then you have to go full bore, anything less would be betrayal. And then, having finished all that, comes the joy of stretching your fingers out and starting to water that cute little seedling.

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One Comment

  1. Paul j Rogers
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Hear, hear. The edit is a long, hard slog. Deadlines come and go and everything moves in “book time”. Open up your manuscript and a minute in the real world suddenly equates to an hour. Quite unfairly, our bodies still age at real world pace.

    “Just because you’re sick of your script doesn’t mean it’s finished.”

    William M. Akers

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