Monday, January 10, 2011

Why is there more red ink on this page than black?

Yeah, that's my novel
There is a funny thing that happens when you finish a novel. You are so relieved and exhilarated at first, because you have this book sitting in front of you. You wrote it, you thought up that plot and built those characters.

Then reality kind of butts it's little obnoxious troll doll head into your dream and you realize that this task has not been completed yet.

Drawing the sword out of the stone isn't the you have to run a country and fight wars. If Merlin had bothered to tell Arthur about that part of the story, he might very well have never touched the damned sword in the first place, but Merlin didn't and so Arthur did pull the sword out...just as you went ahead and wrote the cursed novel you now have to edit.

Now you have this novel in front of you and you print out the manuscript and start to read over it. Parts of it are good, parts are just okay, some parts might even be amazing! Then you stumble across that scene your wrote at 3am when the only thing keeping you from passing out was chocolate and coffee and you read it...and read it look at with your head cocked to one side like a confused dog. Then, if you are like me, you throw the manuscript onto the table and wonder, aloud, 'What was I ON when I wrote that!' which of course freaks out everyone else in Starbucks, where you've been editing, because editing at home involves to many distractions like TV, internet, sleeping and washing dishes.

Okay, so maybe that's just a bit to specific to apply to anyone except for me, but you get the picture.

Editing is hard work. It's a lot more difficult to edit your own work than it is to work on someone else's writing. Sometimes it can feel like nothing you write will ever be good enough, because, clearly, if you have to use that much red ink on the first draft then there is never any way that any of the drafts could be good.

Editing someone else's work is substantially more least for me. It appeals to that little inner sadist I have, tearing into the writing of another person with a red pen can be wonderful. A lot of time that's because you can see that you aren't the only one who's first, second or even third draft kind of sucks.

When it comes right down to it, the thing you have to remember is that every author, no matter how famous, had a first draft of every one of their novels and the chances are good that there was a whole lot of red ink on every single one of them too. Writing isn't something that can be perfect the first time, it takes a lot of work to get it right. You may have had the perfect outline, but I'm willing to bed that your character's didn't stick to it. Stories have a way of taking on a life of their own as you write them, sometimes it seems as though the story is writing itself. Reigning it in during editing and making sense of the story is the really hard part.

So keep on going, every draft will have a little less red ink and a little more black.

Just know that you are never going to see your book as perfect, even if someone else does.

The question is, does writing make you crazy or were writer's crazy to start out with?

We'll probably never know.

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