It’s Thursday and I want to talk about a particular experience I had over the last month or so that is relevant to my current editing goals.
In December of last year I was doing my best to hit my daily goal of words written, because I had a novel I wanted to finish and a year of writing to smash to pieces. I was successful at both of those, but right there in the middle of it all I had some random inspiration and wrote a short story.
I haven’t posted the short story on the blog, nor have I submitted it anywhere for publication consideration yet. Part of that is that the story isn’t ready yet.
The other part is that – while I was writing this story – I thought it was possibly the greatest thing I’d ever written. My writer brain had convinced itself that I was writing the short story that would somehow make me famous.
That is, of course, ludicrous. I know that, but my brain wouldn’t let me see it. That is, until I went to sleep and read the story the next day. THEN my writer brain fell from its artificial pedestal and cracked its skull open on the realization that I had not, in fact, written the greatest thing I had ever written. Instead, that next day I was convinced that I had written a terrible story that made no sense whatsoever and was being awfully pretentious without any kind of payoff. The mere thought of the story depressed me, and knowing I thought it was amazing 24 hours before was making it worse.
So I shoved it into a dark hole for a while where I didn’t have to think about it. Once the year was over and I had just a little bit of distance from this wretched homunculus, I pulled it from its scabrous cavern and tried to see it without either lens I had previously viewed it.
And I was mostly successful. Where I was looking at the details before and seeing only brilliance followed by looking only at the big picture and seeing only nonsense and terribleness, I was now able to look at it from both perspectives a bit easier.
Yes, it had some REALLY good stuff in it. It also had some really bad stuff in it. So I started to tinker. I cut words, I added some new ones. I eventually extracted an entire scene that wasn’t working. I tightened the whole thing up. This took a couple weeks of occasional tinkering, twenty minutes here, an hour there, five minutes way over there.
For such a short story (it’s only 1,500 words), I was spending what felt like enormous amounts of time poking at it and making little or no progress.
Eventually I just had to put it somewhere and ask for some advice from other writers/editors that I know. I had seen the forest for the trees and I hadn’t. I was in a place where I couldn’t tell if the story was any good anymore.
And I got some really good advice from several people that helped me to get on track. Who were able to reassure me of some of the things I was worrying over, and pointing out other things I hadn’t even thought about. And after it is all said and done, that advice and those thoughts will have made my story stronger, tighter, better.
Being your own first editor is essential no matter where in your career you are. But having other people to give you a hand can get you past the hurdles that your brain is throwing up.
You’ve got to be able to see the big picture AND the details that help make up the big picture.
And you’ve gotta remember to write the hell on.