The Writing Life: Facing Uncertainty in Editing

This is definitely a doubt based post. Unofficial doubts part 6, but for the fact that I’ve accepted what I’m worrying about, and am going to bulldoze on anyway.

This is, admittedly, a newer one for me, but a variant I think on what I have been through in the past and led me to taking far longer than I should to either move on from one project, or finishing another.

I’m almost finished with my developmental edit. I’ve been doing a lot of work on beefing up the frame story in The Killer and The Dead, making it less of an occasional interloper in the main story, and more of an integral part of the whole book, the frame reflecting on and helping to illuminate the character of the protagonist, some of his actions, and of course the character and motivations of his unseen and mostly unheard audience.

So there’s that point, with fifty pages left in the manuscript to revise, where I decide to think, “Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have done any of this…” despite the fact that I’ve got right into some of the additions and in general they have allowed me to enrich the novel and its characters, plot, and themes massively. There’s always the fear that you’ve gone too far, added too much so that the original ‘elegance’ (ho ho!), such as it was, will now be marred by all this extra artifice.


These thoughts are so inevitable I think I’d be more concerned if I didn’t have them. Of course the clutch of doubt feels real. It takes a while to shake off its cold fingers. But I do, with more irritation now than dread.

What do I accept? That I will make mistakes. Doubt tries to pin you in a catch-22 – changing your orignal manuscript will be a mistake, but aha! leaving it alone is also a mistake – gotcha! “What will you do now?”, says doubt, triumphant, “You’re doomed to make mistakes no matter what you do!”

Yeah, but I’ve already accepted that, says I. And I think I’d rather make a more adventurous mistake than a conservative one, and I already know that some of my alterations have made a material improvement in the original, so the original is not a place I can go back to, or even want to.

So sod off doubt – I’m making changes. And let’s stop calling them changes shall we? Let’s start calling them improvements. Because that is what they are.

And I have more passes of edits to go after this one, more reviews and re-evaluations to parse. Anything added here that does begin to feel clunky, misplaced, out of synch can be altered, polished, or cut. Doubt can be useful in identifying these things sometimes, the misfit toys that don’t quite work, but faith in your writing, trust in your gut and your instincts also helps you know when you’ve got something right. And those moments are downright giddy. Just remember not to go all General Zod, got to keep some perspective!

I’m always going to be uncertain. I’m probably always going to think that with more time I could make it better, but I’ve wasted so much time already on that idea. Years of it. I’m going with this process now. Deadlines and instinct to trump doubt and perfectionism. Let’s go.



3 thoughts on “The Writing Life: Facing Uncertainty in Editing

  1. Good article. I’m editing my MS right now, and I’m on the fourth cut wondering if I’m doing it right. I’m going to finish this draft, send it to a beta reader, then stick it in my top drawer for a while until I’m ready to look at it with fresh eyes. Hopefully next year it’ll be ready to start submitting. We’ll see.

    Good luck with yours!

    1. I think you have to find a process you can trust and that fits you. That can take some experimentation. Wondering if you’re doing it right is an eternal problem, it seems – I’ve just decided to trust myself a little more, which is hard sometimes! Leaving something a while and coming back to it fresh is often a very good idea. I’m not doing that this time, and we’ll see how it goes – I’m experimenting!

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