A meme floated across my media feed the other day. It went along the lines of “when you’re done writing the story, the real work can begin: editing!” I’ll be honest: it pissed me off. I’m still a bit tetchy about it. I think it denigrates the creation of stories, and plays right into the large publishers vision for writers as penitent petitioners, asking to please, please, please be considered for the great honor of being allowed to be published.
Look, for writers, editing is often hard because it’s not what we want to do. We want to get our hands into the world, get the sentences down on the page, and do the meaty work of writing. And then it’s done, and why should I muck about with changing things? Change is hard, and I’ve already written the story. It doesn’t need changing! Leave my darlings alone!
Weeeeelllllllll, the trick, then, is (again. As always. I know, I know: I’m sorry) figuring out what works for you and doing it. I know several authors who immediately put away what they’ve finished, and start working on something else. Then, after a few weeks, they come back and start working through it, starting with a solid read through, and then working on any changes they find.
Others send the manuscript out to their beta readers immediately. They work on something else for a while (I’m starting to sense a pattern, here) and when they get feedback from their readers, they dive into it again to figure out what to change. And then there are folks who have an editor waiting on them. Finish manuscript, send in, chew nails until the edit letter gets there. (Nah, I’m kidding: they almost always start working on something else.) Then there are people like Dean Smith, who typically write one draft, pick over it for typos and suchlike, and hit publish. Of course, Dean has a few decades of writing under his belt. He’s far less likely to mess that up than someone like, I don’t know, me.
My own style is, I’m told, a little unusual. I edit as I’m writing. “Nope, that sentence is wrong.” “Oh, that scene needs … something. How about this?” “Huh, I love where this is going, buuuuuuut … no, it really needs to happen about twenty thousand words later into the story. They need to get where they’re going, and run into people, and then get in that bar fight, so she can learn that she does know how to fight, and then everybody can be shocked, and I can ratchet up the tension that much more …” So my writing often looks like me juggling a few too many *ahem* items for my skill level. (Incidentally, it’s worse when I’m telling the Little their Pretend Story. It’s why I’m taking notes after. The male protagonist just got a “gem” lodged in his hand that may or may not give him interesting abilities utilizing solar-based energies…) I’ve done this with my writing as long as I’ve been writing, so even if it slows down my actual production, I feel (don’t know: need to start working on metrics and tracking) like it produces a better and cleaner product in the end. Maybe. (Incidentally, this is the problem with such an individual journey as writing is. Just because a thing works for you, doesn’t mean it’ll work for your identical twin, while it worked for your mutual buddy on one book, but not on the next. I feel like we need to start conducting auguries to find out the truth about this stuff. Sure sheep guts know more than we do.)
Is editing the real hard work of the writing process? I don’t think so, though that may well be just my subjective experience. At least, it’s not the hardest part for me. That would be finishing things without getting a half dozen new pro- I mean, getting a half dozen distractions crowing for my attention in the back of my skull. As always, try things. Find what works for you. Editing might be the most labor-like part of writing, but is it the hardest? Not for me.