What I’m learning… about editing.
The more I edit, the more I rewrite
I find my novel is growing as I edit. Cutting paragraphs that slow down the story forced me to drill deeper and develop the remaining characters. This reduction is helping me expand and improve the work, without compromising the word count.
A difficulty, I find, is deciding when it’s time to say “done.” It’s easy to keep tweaking the manuscript and change words because that’s a distraction from moving to other parts of the process like publication, promotion and marketing. I also know I’ve to continue writing, and editing this novel is a way to postpone having to prove myself all over again.
Over-editing can tear the heart from a document, leaving a dull carcass. If the spark and enthusiasm get drained, the book loses its emotion, depth and voice. Like a meal, a novel can lose its flavour by being overcooked. In the book, This Year You Write Your Novel, Walter Mosley writes (and I’m paraphrasing here): “You find yourself reading through for the twenty-fifth time, and as you see problems, you try to fix them, but the attempt only makes things worse … Then you know you’re finished.”
We strive for perfection, but can never reach it. I read somewhere that Persian carpet makers insert a deliberate mistake in each pattern to show that humans aren’t flawless. I heard a well-known actor say during an interview that he refuses to watch his films. Why? Because he feels, in hindsight, they aren’t good enough; he should have done better. He’ll see all the mistakes, the things he’ll want to change. I know the feeling. Self-criticism is part of the creative process. I think most writers have insecurities and a dread they’ll find a typo or something to edit after publication.
A friend of mine writes by chapter. When the segment is written, she pares it back to around 3500 words and then moves on to the next. This way, the first edit is complete when the book’s finished. It works for her. Maybe it could work for you.