I worked throughout April on a new manuscript as a part of Camp NaNoWriMo. This is no secret, and was actually a part of my temporary radio silence. At the end of the month, I had met my word goal by writing 40,111 words, but had not actually finished the story. I suppose I should have aimed for a higher word count, but based on the last couple I had written, my young adult first drafts tend to hit slightly on the lower side.
While I am still completing this novel, I am also beginning to think about the next step. No, not publication and inevitable success. (Okay, maybe occasionally. I am an unapologetic dreamer after all.) No, as I finish my mind begins to turn to the dreaded task of editing.
There are different views to editing, and honestly different needs based on the writer. Many successful writers have made statements indicating that editing was a key part of their success. True or not, Ernest Hemingway is credited with stating, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Of course there are others who only edit for spelling errors, and are completely happy with their end results. So who is right? I don’t know, and I don’t really care.
For me, I hate editing. It requires me to be objective about my own writing and my own story. I begin to second guess everything and suddenly I not only believe Hemingway, but I realize that no matter how much you polish, a turd is still a turd. I take everything about my own writing personally because it is technically personal. This is something that came from inside me. Even if it’s not actually my biography there are parts of me in every character and every choice.
It’s much easier to be objective and honest when I am working with someone else’s work. I’ve done beta reading before, reading the draft of a story and giving honest feedback. I feel like I can give constructive criticism without making it unnecessarily cruel. It’s not about what I like or don’t like, it’s about what makes sense. Occasionally, I even do it without thinking.
I recently finished a novel, a new adult story that at first seemed like a straight forward girl goes away to college and falls into the middle of a love triangle. Instead it felt to me to be several books in one. As I read I could not help but cut through the chapters mumbling to myself about what was unnecessary and what was distracting or weird. To me, this book needed some severe editing and should not have gone to print without it. But then, as far as I could find, the writer is at least reasonably successful so my opinion may be the unpopular one on this book.
I hate editing because at the end of the day it is going to arbitrary. There are many books I have read and wondered how the hell they got to print through a major publishing house without someone saying something about editing the story in some way. If I had been the agent, or publishing house rep, I would have sent it back and said redo it and we’ll try again. But no one did, and the world (or part of it) thanks them for sending it through as is. I can look at someone else’s work and whine about how they should have done things, and doubt all of my own work, but at the end of the day I am only one reader. My opinion is not the one that makes decisions, and clearly I shouldn’t be the one to make those decisions. I might have saved the world from some poorly written books, but I also would have saved myself and everyone else from a large quantity of money.
So what does this mean for my own editing? Hell if I know. I guess it means I will be one of those writers who needs someone else to help me sort through my own mess.