Thursday, December 9, 2010

Who Knew? Editing = Courage

Here is the truth about editing.
It stinks.
At least, editing one’s own work stinks.
Give me your paper and I will happily chop and alter.
Give me my own work and I am paralyzed.

Up until now I thought of editing as simple fixes: checking spelling, cleaning grammar, and adjusting for rhythms. It’s a quick one-two. And really, it’s what I do with my son in his Daily Grams. How could I have known it should be different?

It’s one thing to edit a sentence. Or a paragraph. It’s quite another to edit 100,000 words, the equivalent of about 60 pages.

And it isn’t just sentence structure. It’s structure-structure. As in, change the way the whole thing is presented.

The truth is I have a book proposal “out there.” A well-respected editor even took the time to tell me she is interested. But, she said, I needed to change the way the topic is presented to my readers. 

That was two years ago. (See what I mean about paralysis?)

This summer, the urge to approach the book returned and I wrote madly for a week or so. A complete rewrite. I didn’t even look at the first submission.

A few weeks ago, I read both the original and the rewrite. I have decided that I have lots of material. The first submission is well written but boring. The second writing is c**p but has good bones. It isn’t at all how I wanted to say what I tried to say and certainly wasn’t fit for anyone to read. (In fact, I had a friend review it to provide scripture references and I am pretty sure she thinks less of me as a result.) Cringe.

Thank God for writers who have gone before me and have had the helpful urge to write about their own terror in the process. I’ve been reading Barbara Abercrombie’s Courage & Craft and Anne Lamott’s writing classic, Bird by Bird. Both are encouraging in their advice to write, write, and write. And both are equally as adamant that they are pretty sure what you write first will be awful.

Anne Lamott goes so far as to have an entire chapter devoted to “Sh***y First Drafts.” Thank you Anne. She also tells of the looping “KFKD” (Sound it out.) that plays in her head. Check. I can relate.

Barbara Abercrombie says to be ruthless in chopping your work. But, she warns, be kind. Don’t delete. Save. Says she, “Nothing you write is ever wasted.” Thank you Barbara. I think I needed to hear that.

So. Here I ponder the best way to approach this editing project. These authors helped me realize that I have some good stuff in these “down drafts” (as in, get it down on paper). They also helped me realize that my work has just begun but that I am not alone in the daunting task of it. Every good writer makes MAJOR changes to plot, structure, character, and tone. 

What I lack is courage. Who knew that editing and courage should coexist?

I vow to change this. I vow to approach my work with love and kindness, red pen and open files in tow.  But I will keep quiet about this to my 8th grader who still lives under the happy illusion that editing takes five minutes. This is one life lesson we each must learn on our own.

Writing is such a lonely pursuit. Very few understand just how far we go into the recesses of our minds as we work. In the meantime, I will make a shameless plug to solicit encouragement in the process. Thank you in advance to all of you who will hold my hand and gently walk with me. I will personally sign a copy of this book for you someday!

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