There is something a writer must do that I both love and dread. That is: unleash the evil editor. I love this part of my writing because it allows me to strengthen my work and enhance its impact. It lets me evaluate the quality, adjust where I need to, and often get a fresh perspective and new ideas for other scenes.
I hate it because oftentimes I can’t seem to get anything further done in a piece. I edit the heck out of things and get depressed over how worthless I’ve made myself feel by hacking into a beloved work, or—as is the case with most of my older stuff—I don’t know where to begin to edit to give it the best facelift. There are many older scenes in things I dearly love and want to keep, but they feel…silly…either because of the structure or dialogue or some other minor something I’d be embarrassed to show the world. I’m always anxious about sharing my work publicly, because I don’t know what people will think—of it, or me for writing it. I already know many people think I’m crazy since I talk to my characters.
My best friend of nearly 20 years, Ian, told me a few months ago he wants to read Brink. The man doesn’t have a computer or internet so I can’t easily get it to him, but what he said while we were talking on the phone reminds me of my biggest anxiety—and of how well he knows me. He told me he wanted to read Brink in part because my writing always has a bit of me in it: something I’ve experienced, something I’m currently going through, people I know in alter-ego form, stuff I’m struggling to cope with, animals I know, something that has “me” in it. He said growing up he could always tell what I was dealing with, how people or life were treating me, and my outlook on things simply by reading. Of everyone I know (yes, boyfriend included), Ian possibly understands me the best. And I think his determination and willingness to read my work has a great deal to do with it.
That may be why my “evil editor” side is so fierce. I keep going back over things to try to hide the stuff that, if someone knew me, would stand out as obvious truth about me. Unintentionally, a lot of my writing turned out to be subliminal therapy. I grew up hearing from teachers “write what you know.” I did, and incorporated it into a bit of everything I wrote.
Because of my tight connections to my work, I hate cutting things out. But it must be done for the good of the entire piece. Few people (and I can’t actually think of any off the top of my head) enjoy rambling piece of work. They want to escape, or be entertained, or both. To do that, you have to let the editor out.
I’ve been editing pretty much as long as I’ve been writing. I do most of it in my head before I ever write anything down; even in college writing classes I rarely went back and changed things once it was put down on paper. I mulled it over, adjusted it, readjusted, scrapped, spliced, and tweaked everything over and over and over until I was satisfied it was good enough to be written out. In high school, friends would actually give me their creative writing papers to edit before they were handed in to the teacher for critique. I was nominated head editor of the book my Novel Writing class published in college, and actually copy edited an international veterinary magazine published by the vet school at Purdue during that time as well. For me, editing doesn’t take a lot of thought; I literally do it in my sleep with my own stories. I’m good at it. I enjoy it.
Problem is, I’m so hard on my own work I don’t get very far very fast. I have a lot of partially-done stuff I’m frustrated with because the evil editor side won’t leave well enough alone.
Enter Brink. Participating in National Novel Writing Month in November forced me to write and forced me to lock the evil editor in its cage for the span of thirty days (actually, about twenty-eight, in my case; I finished early). There was so little time to write I couldn’t afford to waste it on editing. It averaged about seventeen hundred words a day, approximately 6 pages. I had to do that every day or fall behind. Fortunately for me, I’m paranoid and a perfectionist, so I averaged about thirty-four hundred a day four or five days a week and took weekends off. I was overwhelmed by the amount of work I did, and, above that, the quality. It wasn’t the best I think I can do, but it was far, far above the worst.
Now that I have a set of goals laid out, the evil editor has reared its head again. I desperately love my Kavalren story, A New Breed of Warrior, but, given its age, the quality is well below my current ability. After a good deal of deliberation, I’ve decided I’m scrapping at least one large section in favor of starting over with a stronger point of view. I like the way it’s going. The overall storyline will not change, but a lot of other things will to bring it up to preferred quality. This puts a lot of strain on my one-year goal for it, but there’s still ten months left so it could happen. It would certainly be rewarding.