No surprise to anyone who has been there and done this, but the editing process tends to reveal more than it resolves at first. First you find superficial issues to fix, then you think of extra things that could/should be added and removed to make the story better. Then you realise how fat and lazy your first draft was in its use of language, and how tedious the process of tightening it up will be, not to say time consuming.
In my ongoing effort to edit my novel – which I realise will take me longer than my deadline, but with no deadline there would be less action, so I am sticking with it – I have discovered this useful and intimidating book. The 21 steps are hilarious, and he gives many excellent examples. I am guilty of all of them. It is like a self assessment tool gifted from a teacher who always liked you but shook his head at your slap dash ways. He wanted you to do better, but you consistently ignored him. He gives you this book as a last chance to a favourite old pupil, his wisdom distilled, if now you are mature enough to accept it. It is challenging, but not disheartening. I can sense improvement around the corner, if I put in some work.
I tried to scoff, and say that cookie cutter writing could result from slavishly following these steps, and other ideas suggested in the book… but it is a big world of words, and plenty are left for us to be inventive and idiosyncratic with. And if I find myself sounding alien and strange after implementing these improvements as best I can, well I can always switch back to an earlier draft. But that would probably be foolish without some external review first! Work and retest!
As an aside – I am mystified at times by the images and related content that pops up as I type these things! No complaint at all, we live in the age of the search engine, but still I find it amusing to see how the offered images and links alter as I progress and give more info to the relevancy engine, as it were.
Anyway, back to the realisations borne of embarkation upon the editing process. You get feedback from people who have read your book already in its rough form. This is wonderful and always appreciated. Especially the challenging and well thought out criticisms, which from folk you know are often harder to find. This feedback has shown me things I had not and could not necessarily think of myself easily, in the bubble of the work as I am, but with a nudge, I have realised ways in which to make my book so much better, richer and more satisfying to the reader and to myself, and not really with that much more effort.
I have seen the mountain.
I have seen that this process can take my book from its current rough form to something very good. Or to sound less delusional, something a lot closer to as good as I could make it. I see how it could make my book a lot closer to the books I admire in terms of craft and depth, without in any way engineering a copy of those works. (Jane Public may disagree when we get to her part of the revision process. I’ll listen carefully to what JP has to say.) It will all be my creation, done my way, made better through work. Made better by the eyes of others.
It is like submitting homework at school. I was a lazy student – I did what I had to in order to get a passing grade, no more. (I was educated in Scotland, and the system there does not worry about a GPA, and so I did not. C was a pass, D a fail.) C was fine, but disappointing in subjects I cared about, as even I knew I could do better than that. Subjects I did not care about… no point going there folks. B was totally acceptable, if I received that I felt like I had won, given the effort put in to get the grade. The odd A I received? Normally when I couldn’t help myself and got stuck into the subject just for the joy of it and enjoyed saying what I thought. Of course this tended to raise expectations that I would promptly confound as the next topic failed to ring my bell in terms of interest.
So having seen the Mountain of what could be, I realise my attitude to writing my book could easily fall prey to my schoolboy attitude of “just enough is enough”. That would be very bad.
When receiving feedback and criticism it would be easy to decide that maybe all you need is a C. Maybe a C+, after all that is enough to pass, more folk than not would imaginarily like what you made on that basis. Maybe that would be enough. There was more praise than critique in what you got back, so you can ignore the flaws pointed out, the naysayers should have! You fall for the “can’t please all the people all the time” line you feed yourself in order to dodge doing the very hard work of raising the grade of your work. But this is not an assignment. This is the one thing in my life I have ever wanted to do. Why would I want to put my name on a C, C+ at best? I would be cheating myself and cheating anyone who bothered to read what I wrote and shoved in front of them without doing them the courtesy making it as good as I can. If after that any flaws that get pointed out… well at least I can then argue why I do not think they are flaws, or put my hands up and admit I failed in that aspect of telling my story. Dang, you got me. Will do better. Learn from the feedback.
This is not school. Getting a B will not be winning, there is no system to cheat here, only my goals, my name and my self-respect. I have to aim for an A. There is no alternative.
I have seen the mountain.