editing: the pessimist’s way

Follow me on Twitter @oldmannelson

So you’ve got momentum after completing your first draft. Good job! You’ve done what many have tried to do and failed. The fun part for you (because you’re a pessimist) will be the editing. Nothing’s more satisfying than confirming your biggest bias: you’re not a great writer–not yet, anyway.

Take a break, then dive back in.

Compare your draft to a doodle in someone’s sketchbook. There’s cool scribbles in that book, but a lot of the drawings aren’t finished, and although that person might walk around showing people their stuff none of it is ready to be sold yet. Sketchbooks show potential ideas, not fleshed-out or marketable content. Most of those doodles will be forgotten before long. There will be one or two that stand out, and those are the ones to develop later on.

Your draft is like one of those sketches. I suggest you take a break from that doodle, seeing as how you’ve been at it for a while. Then return to it–but leave that pencil and eraser alone. Do you still like the composition? Is that character’s hairstyle as cool as you thought it was two days ago? Are those clothes functional or aesthetic? Do women bend that way?

The outline you originally made for your story can only account for so much. If you perfectly executed it and loved every word on your page, we wouldn’t need to edit.

Big head Vida
Goddamnit, her head is too big.

Share it with a friend–but not just any friend.

In most situations I lack the emotional hardware to let criticism harm me–except when it comes to writing. To counter that insecurity, I share my work with my homeboy @fallettus. He possesses a Bachelors in Journalism, and worked for a sports magazine, so I trust his narrative and grammatical judgments. But more importantly, he knows how to offer constructive criticism without being an asshole. And to reciprocate my trust in him, he shares his comic book ideas with me.

Whoever you wind up sharing work with should be worthy of your respect, but also tactful enough to tell you what’s working in your writing and what isn’t.

Hit the books!

A few weeks ago there were some good Twitter discussions about the “killing your darlings” philosophy of writing. Stories are supposed to follow tenets recognized throughout Western canon: identify characters, establish setting, introduce conflict, and so on. Ideas that seem extraneous and don’t progress plot should be thrown away. The general notion is that being attached aspects of your narrative can work against your storytelling.

I’ll let Twitter determine whether or not any of that is true. As a pessimist your greatest defense against doubt should be information, since you’re probably lacking in the self-esteem department. I’ve been looking to Grammarly for help with fundamentals, but I’m also reading narratives from professionals to see grammar rules applied in practical ways. If you find that your writing violates some rules, you should consider whether you care about that sort of thing, and how your choices will affect your intended audience.

NEVERTHELESS, YOU MUST PERSIST!

I’ve had a lot of moments where I didn’t want to work on my story anymore. With the overwhelming number of hours one devotes towards perfecting their craft, and responding to feedback, and defending some decisions while changing things that truly aren’t helping your story, quitting can seem sensible.

But I know myself: I’m a natural born quitter, and I don’t like it. The real question is whether or not I want to remain that way; so far, the answer is a resounding “no.” The only way to traverse the wasteland of story writing is to keep going forward, even when the end isn’t always in sight.