This article is posted in Page2Print.
I’ve found, increasingly over the last few years, that there are two completely divergent paths when it comes to “writing” and “editing that writing”. I have written two complete novels that each flowed out of me in a month. I have written two other as-of-yet unpublished novels that also took roughly a month to get the first draft completed. The editing for the first two novels was an uphill struggle with twenty-pound weights attached to my legs. It took five months to properly edit Something More, and it took six months to properly edit Our Crumbling Ivory.
As of this writing I’m gearing up to begin the third draft of Something More’s (untitled) sequel, so called because it doesn’t have a name yet. I spent about a month writing this one, followed by a couple months downtime, followed by another two weeks of writing. Then the second draft took another two months. I expect the third draft to take about a month, and subsequent drafts to take a couple of weeks each. At this rate (with some downtime between drafts to let my mind focus elsewhere and come back fresh) it’ll be the end of summer before I feel like it’s ready to show to other people, and then another couple of months while I go through a final revision using those people’s suggestions.
You’d think with that kind of editing schedule I’d never get anything else done, but there’s a lot of downtime between editing phases, and that downtime exists because your mind gets all tangled up in the story, and it needs time to untie itself.
The Writing Long Jump
The writing and editing phases are so drastically different that I refer to them by their own monikers outside of writing and editing. The Writing Long Jump, because when I’m actually writing it starts off kinda slow, then I begin building up speed until I’m dashing, so fast I can’t maintain the pace for long, and just when I think I can’t go any further, I take one last wild leap forward, gaining as much ground as humanly possible. Sometimes I stumble and the judges give me 2 points, sometimes I break my personal record, sometimes I break a finger (that one hasn’t actually happened yet).
The point is that when it’s time to start writing, I typically have a goal in mind for a particular day. Usually this goal is too far away for me to reliably achieve, but it doesn’t stop me from attempting to get there. That’s where the Long Jump comes into play. Instead of spending all my time gee-golly-goshing about what I’ve already written, I don’t look back, I don’t stop, and I sure as hell don’t check that my fingers are moving in the right direction. I’ve written about momentum killers in the past, and it’s still just as true. I charge madly forward, hoping little children or puppies don’t stumble into my path because the carnage will be newsworthy. I’d rather not be infamously known as “Puppy Boots” or “Toddler Tennies”.
In taking that last wild leap forward in this metaphor, it’s a suggestion that I can get more from my writing in the span of time I have. I just have to look ahead, plan a few steps, and then go for it. Sometimes the results are so surprising, so awesome, that I feel like someone should give me a big gold medal.
I still don’t have one.
The Editing Obstacle Course
Whereas writing is a pretty straight-forward procession, editing is an entirely different exercise. If the long jump is writing, an obstacle course is editing.
Why? Think about what you do when you edit. You dance around issues, you jump through plot hoops, you try to follow a prescribed plot path. The obstacle course is where you start juggling different skills in order to get the best outcome. There’s the inevitable tire track, the swinging bridge, the rope climb, possibly a gauntlet somewhere in there. And some form of a tangled web or jungle gym.
Oh how I hate the jungle gym.
If I were to compare each event in a typical obstacle course to a specific act of editing, the jungle gym/tangled web is the part where you have to see the pattern in your writing, and figure out the shortest route to get through without getting bogged down or tied up. The jungle gym is fun, but it’s easy to get distracted exploring all the different exits. The tangled web is an interesting challenge, but it’s far too easy to just end up caught in a convoluted web while you were trying to backpedal and reroute.
You have to be ready to deal with all the different aspects of editing. The tire track is a sentence-by-sentence balancing act where every step is another movement forward; if you trip and fall, the story doesn’t end, you still have to get up and finish the course, and remember where you stumbled the next time you run it.
The swinging bridge is how you transition between scenes. Do you swiftly and easily hop onto the rope and end up on the barrels, or do you suddenly fall into the river below?
The rope climb is any place in your writing where you find the pace has bogged down and forward momentum has slowed to a crawl. It’s up to you to figure out how to climb that rope faster and get moving with the story again.
The gauntlet is all the knowledge and skill you have trying to tell you what’s wrong with the writing. Your subconscious will yell at you to fix things that your conscious mind isn’t even seeing. Tapping into that subconscious is difficult, but instead of reading it straight from beginning to end, choose random sentences on the page and start there. Remove words on purpose and force your brain to re-evaluate. The gauntlet is brutal, and the way through is to trust your instincts.
And last, there’s rerunning the obstacle course. Each subsequent run you get better at it, you don’t stumble on as many tires, you clumsily land on the barrels across the rope swing, you use those leg muscles to help steady you while you climb, cutting off precious seconds. You deftly maneuver the gauntlet, getting knocked off only a couple of times instead of at every single obstacle.
And then you run it again.
You run it ’til you could run it backwards and blindfolded.
And just when you think you’ve got everything perfect, you ask someone to watch you run the obstacle course. They start pointing out all kinds of things you’re doing wrong; how to hit those tires more efficiently; how to hold your back when you swing across the rope; why you keep getting tangled up in the web; and why – even though you made it past the gauntlet – you’re still not doing it good enough.
So you consider their advice, re-examine the course, and then you go back and you try again, and you get better.
Then those people change the damn course on you, and you feel like you’re starting all over.
Good luck running the editing obstacle course.
So now that I’ve taken the metaphor far beyond what you were probably expecting, do you agree? Do you have your own similes, metaphors, or comparisons that you make that help you visualize the writing or editing process and keep your mental focus on the task at hand?