I have this special gift. If there’s an obstacle to writing, I will find it, give it a name, and then trip on it and fall on my face. It comes naturally, I don’t have to work at it.
The obstacle that gave me the most trouble this summer is something I’m now calling editing block. It’s like writer’s block, but worse. The bright side is that I had several other projects to work on, so I still made progress on my overall writing goals. But there’s this book that has been haunting me, and not just because it’s a horror novel.
I have often thought that I’d like to work toward being the type of author who outlines, but this book is making me realize that no amount of planning can ease the angst over editing a manuscript. The part of the book I outlined the most, is the part that is now giving me the greatest trouble. Recently though, I’ve found some creative ways around my block, and I’m starting to make real progress on editing.
Let me tell you about the biggest issues that have hung me up. I wrote this story in chronological order, following a curse that has plagued a family for generations. The story begins in 1775 and runs through the present with the present-day characters making up most of the story. The first problem was that I wanted my present-day characters to lead the story with the events from the past being sifted in throughout the book. So I pulled eleven chapters from the front of the book to be worked back in later.
The next issue was also in those eleven chapters. I had a character who did not have a strong enough motivation for some of her actions. The problem was that when I conceptualized her scenes, I thought her motivation was strong enough, but they were really plot driven motivations (because I needed her to do them to further the plot) and not character driven. The result was that her character was flat and unlikable. She was a puppet doing what I told her to do, but even once the problem was pointed out, I wasn’t sure how to resolve it.
I started editing the chapters, knowing what I needed to change, but not yet how. I marked the spots that I knew needed to be cut to make room for what I hoped would be more vibrant scenes that would reveal her motivation and get the reader to care about her. As I pushed through the printed pages and marked the edits that I knew how to make, an idea started forming. By the time I was ready to make the edits on the computer, I had her motivation worked out. I ran it by a few people who had read the earlier version and when their eyes lit up, I knew I finally had a believable motivation.
The next problem came when I made my way through the eleven chapters and still had no idea where they fit back in the book. I have this sense about it, and I know my brain is working out the puzzle, but I don’t have the answer yet. So I implemented the strategy that has kept me moving on this editing up to this point, and that strategy is called “worry about it later.”
I opened a new document and plugged in the eleven chapters and started making my edits, adding my new scenes to reveal my character’s motivations, and deleting huge sections that no longer worked. I’ve now made it through thirty pages of transferring the handwritten edits into my manuscript and the more I finish, the more motivated I am to keep going. And all the while, in the back of my mind I’m working on where to plug in these chapters. Maybe I’ll have it worked out by the time I get through these handwritten edits, or perhaps I’ll have to move onto the next section of the book. Regardless, I plan to work around the problems I haven’t figured out yet instead of letting them stall my progress.
I’m so excited that I’m going to leave this post to edit.
Tell me about your struggles with editing. I’d love to know I’m not in this boat alone. And I’ll add a note here that usually editing is quite relaxing for me, particularly if it’s someone else’s manuscript, because all I have to do is point out the brilliant parts that I love or identify the problems and offer suggestions. I don’t have to make the changes. In truth though, I think the real issue is fear. Once I’m done editing, I’ll have to start submitting it and that’s a huge step.