Worry About It Later

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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.

8 Comments


  1. // Reply

    Hmm, that “fear” you mentioned at the end only really shows up for me when I’m polishing. I hate hunting typos because I keep finding them. I would rather it be the kind of hunting trip where you don’t see your prey at all, and just relax and have a couple cold ones.

    11 Chapters is a lot! But I wonder if the reason for the trouble is because it’s all back story. This used to happen to me a lot because growing up I always felt that stories were missing something at the beginning, and I wanted to write those beginnings, like the major historical event that a story will talk about, how the magical sword got forged, where it came from, why it exists, etc. Still though, 11 chapters, that’s a hit to your word count, and it’s hard to give up on, but that may be what’s required.

    I like your “worry about it later” attitude, that’s how I survive copy edit passes without losing my mind. I also try to fix structural things first, because then I don’t have to kill any pretty words, just draft fodder.

    My suggestion would be, take a good hard look at those 11 chapters and ask yourself if they are needed. Do you have enough material to make a novel with the remaining story? Then you can interject bits and pieces of the past, and perhaps make a novel or short prequel out of the others that might make an effective loss-leader for your novel (or series if you are continuing it).


    1. // Reply

      It’s funny, I just had a conversation with a friend yesterday about the dangers of adding too much backstory, and that it can be an indication that you’re telling the wrong story, or you’re starting it from the wrong place.
      I have read many stories though that have effectively sifted in past events, and in this particular story it is through the present day characters delving into their family history that they find answers to their current predicament. That being said, these chapters will be slimmed down. There’s information that was inserted in the chapters to build the story. Those parts of the story, whether I was aware of it at the time or not, were essentially place holders and will get cut.
      It’s interesting that there’s so much fear involved when I tackle writing, but it’s not the writing itself, in a weird way it’s more about the fear of screwing it up. I’ve written in many capacities for several different jobs over the years and had no fear. Academic writing didn’t bother me either. But those were all things that I wrote for someone else. The stories and pieces I’m writing now are things I want to write, they’re my stories. And it matters to me if they succeed or fail. Before, I knew I could write and it was easy for me, there was a detachment from the pieces I wrote.
      In my writing now, even though it’s fiction, it is very much every part of me going into the effort of creating these pieces. I have always been a hard worker, and I’ve succeeded at jobs that I didn’t care about and some that I even hated, and now I would like to succeed at what I love. It adds pressure and it’s why I’m so hard on myself and my writing.


      1. // Reply

        I hear you there too. Loud and clear. Success in fiction seems to hang on such a thin thread. Best of luck to you. I’m sweating bullets about re-releasing my Viral Spark story, but I’m going ahead with it, and quadruple checking everything, hoping for a smooth launch.


  2. // Reply

    So, did you get to edit after leaving the post?

    I write when I feel like it, but I still have to edit. I love editing, though especially when the work is a few years old. I tend to write novel stories and leave them untouched for a year or two or even more. And when I go back to them, I see things that shouldn’t be and should’ve been.

    I hope you get the answer soon to your editing, Mandie. Maybe, you just need to step away for a little bit and come back. Maybe you have to sacrifice something in order for the story to work. But then you said that your issue is fear. Mandie, there is nothing for you to fear. You’re a terrific writer and I don’t ever want you to be afraid to submit your work. Believe in yourself.


    1. // Reply

      I’m editing right now. I paused because I heard the notification for your comment. I have given this story room to breathe. I started it almost three years ago (it’ll be three years next month.) It took me five months to finish it, and while it’s gone through some editing over that time, most of it has been resting while I try to puzzle out how to fix certain parts. The story sat in my head for two years before I wrote it. What’s possibly worse is that I have another novel I wrote before this one that’s waiting to be edited.
      There has to be some sort of quiet confidence in there somewhere, otherwise I’m not sure how it is that I keep pursuing this dream. I know that my love for writing is greater than my fear. The fear is just sometimes louder.
      And while I’ve enjoyed working on shorter pieces and seeing them published, I’m at the point where I want this book done and published. I really enjoy this story, and I want to share it, but before that can happen I have to fix these problems and clean it up.
      I’m on a roll, and I hope to keep it going until I feel it’s polished enough to start submitting it.


  3. // Reply

    I think that I need to find my problem with editing… maybe I would think (the day I would do it) that editing is too much work for me. As for your editing it seems more like the creative part of creating… and that could be inspiring.

    I wonder if you intended to introduce the past in terms of flashbacks or memories. To me the mechanism of weaving a story of two timelines be quite different. I think I tend to like writing in flashbacks, but when reading I prefer to enter into memories more.

    Somehow I feel that the past has to add something to the present day plot line.


    1. // Reply

      The funny thing is that the parts of the writing process that give me the biggest problems, are also the parts that I enjoy the most. It really depends on if I’m hung up on something that changes my view of that process. In figuring out how to work around the part that was giving me trouble in this editing phase, I flew through 75 pages of editing in less than two weeks, and there were major parts that had to be cut and rewritten. And I really enjoyed those two weeks. Sometimes it’s all about perspective, and figuring a way through or around the obstacles along the way.

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