Why Editing is so Hard

Two days into my editing NaNoWriMo and I’ve realised why I can’t find my rhythm when it comes to editing; there is no consistent measure of progress. Unlike writing, where the goal is simply to add more words, or even to get through that one troublesome scene, with editing there is no concrete evidence that I have achieved what I set out to do.  Sure, I can aim to improve my opening scene, to add the backstory in a little later and to start off with an event that demonstrates my protagonist’s compassion and professionality. But, when do I put down my pen (or close my laptop lid) and think to myself: ‘job well done’? Surely the only way to measure the success of my editing skills will be when I can say my book is publishable?

How do you measure success?

How do you measure success?

I am an individual who thrives on results. Part of the reason I adore NaNoWriMo is the ability to have that graph showing me that I’ve achieved something everyday. With words, that effort is concrete – no matter how good or bad they are, the words are right there. Yet, when making an attempt to edit, sometimes those words disappear and sometimes they are replaced with ones that still aren’t earning their place.

That’s why I went with the decision to used the 1,667 marker as seconds spent editing, rather than words edited. Some scenes can take an hour to get right, other times that hour is spent crafting a significant paragraph that is integral to the plot. Even still, there are instances when a single sentence can get the better of you and time passes in the struggle to identify just the right verb or adjective to say what you really mean.

So, already, my editing NaNoWriMo is teaching me about the challenges of the month ahead. I’m beginning to understand why it is that I struggle so much with the process given that I can’t objectively measure it. For someone who thrives on the positivity of demonstrable results, editing is a skill that will only emerge through practice and patience.

Perhaps it could be compared to playing an instrument: you need to learn how to play each note on its own before you can put them together to make a tune. Even then, the first music you play may only be the basic of sounds and, gradually, these combinations will help build on your ability to finally play that masterpiece.

Yet, even in this analogy, see how I concentrate on the accomplishments – separate them out as distinct stages to determine progress? I haven’t yet discovered these in the editing process, so I’m flailing; I can’t understand how – or if – I’m moving forward in my efforts to improve my novel. But I have to believe that I will. I have to have faith that, at some point, I will look back and see how far I’ve come. After all, that’s how it happened with writing. One word after another until I had a novel. Only this time, it’s not words I’m paying attention to – it’s time itself; because the more time I spend editing, the more likely I am to gain confidence, to understand where progress is made and, finally, to know that I’m building on what went before.

If this is what two days can begin to teach me, I can’t wait to see how the month turns out….

Find me as ankhofbastet on nanowrimo.org

Find me as ankhofbastet on nanowrimo.org

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7 responses to “Why Editing is so Hard

  1. I’m not sure that I have ever felt a piece of fiction was completely finished, I can always find something to tinker with if I leave it for a while. On the other hand, I think you can definitely see results from editing and there’s nothing better than finallly realising how to put across exactly what you wanted to say.

  2. I’m goal-driven as well, and when it comes to editing, I normally have a words per day goal of original text edited. Note that I say original text edited, and not words actually created. However, before I get there, I have a specific goal in mind. More properly, I know what’s wrong with the scene.

    Having read your work, and knowing there are flaws with it, identify those flaws. What are the common elements that the draft in general has wrong? For me, that tends to be things like being overly wordy, or having unwieldy dialogue. Going in, I know that any scene at a certain draft is going to have those issues, and I need to fix them. Going beyond that, is there anything wrong with the scene? Is it arcing in the wrong direction, is it taking too long to say a point that could be said faster? Beta readers can help a lot with pointing these sorts of issues out.

    Once you know what’s wrong in a given scene, you have an editing goal: fix what’s wrong. Don’t worry about whether you introduced anything further wrong, or you missed things that need to be right. That is unimportant. Fix what’s wrong that you are aware of. And 90% of the time, you nailed virtually everything that needs improving. I know, I’ve done it. 😉

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