The emotional struggle of editing a novel - header

The emotional struggle of editing a novel

How much insight do readers have into an authors mind? Not much I imagine. I wonder what readers picture when they consider what editing a novel feels like. From what I hear, it goes a little something like so:

A common conception of editing

The writer drafts in fits and flurries until one day those final words strike the page and the work is done. The final sentence written thoughtful and poignant. They print out a stack of paper and hand it off to an editor who attacks the page with red ink until it’s awash of circles and strikethroughs. The manuscript is returned, the writer fixes each mistake then hands it off to publishers.

For me, it’s rarely this simplistic. It’s a disparate and multifaceted process not easy to picture in a scene. My editing state of might is a stormy place fraught with internal struggles and achievements, sometimes thrilling, sometimes horribly boring, sometimes frustrating to no end, yet often rewarding as line by line the work is massaged into close to what it needs to be.

In the trenches

Editing is freeing, daunting, difficult, and when a piece finally feels like it’s coming together, it’s even gleeful. As I edit my current work, a science fiction novel with the working title Grim Curio, I find myself acting as my own therapist as I continually push forward. It’s a dark, supernatural, multi-dimensional, post-apocalyptic story of the last city on a dying earth and how it’s residence deal with the existential crises of being left behind when the rest of humanity escaped to another planet.

I’ve been actively editing Grim Curio for six months. When I look at the early chapters, it’s finally doing the difficult things. The tone feels right. The writing style has the rhythm I want, terse at times and sometimes flowy, sometimes both. It feels punchy in moments as if chewing on the world’s grit. It’s provocative, doesn’t shy away from anything, but balances that with lingering moments of humanity and introspection. There are layers to this shit, man. And in those edited chapters, I feel like its all come together.

To me, that’s glee. I’m hyped on my own cool-aid. But there’s still a long way to go. When you’re writing your heart out, these things take a hellova long time. And I see the mountain of text ahead of me and I keep asking myself, how am I going to get the rest where it needs to be?

The daunting task

That’s daunting as hell, seeing hundreds of pages left to fix up, expand, contract, and otherwise make good. But I have plans, testing strategies. I’m returning to old standby methods when words get dicey and I need to make it right. Part of me is always stressed that I’m taking too much time. Pacing through a single chapter over and over just getting everything flowing can take weeks, can become monotony.

But every pass, I get to ask myself more questions as the work get’s closer too intent. What am I trying to say? What is that character thinking? Who wants what right now? How are they trying to get it? Did this really come from my messed up mind? Sometimes things get darker than even I’m comfortable with, but that’s ok because that’s the story I’m trying to tell.

My wierd existential angst

Then there’s this other weird layer of thought on top of all this, something I try not to think about often, but it comes up. It’s selfish and it’s dark. The most stressful thing about editing is time. It takes a lot of time. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder, what if the world doesn’t have enough time for me to publish my book? What if we’re on a downward trajectory, whether that’s environmental or political, that escalates to the point where another published book doesn’t matter anymore. It’s the most selfish way to think about our current situation. What if we break down as a society and I took too long to get the book to market? Everything I worked for disappears. 

Meh. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen. I’ll keep planting trees in my yard, try to make choices that positively affect the world, and keep on editing cause that’s just what I do.

All wrapped up into a singular process

That’s what goes through my mind while editing. The joys and difficulties and angst. You know what? You have to enjoy the process because in the end, all you’re left with is a bunch of words on some pages that hopefully some people will read and turn into something more. But all you can control is the process, so you enjoy the hard times, turn the stress into a game, and hopefully create something you can be proud of. Soon this process will end and I’ll start over again with another book. It’ll be worth it no matter what because the process is worth it.

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