Writing Versus Editing

One of the biggest things I struggle with in my writing is this: writing versus editing. I am something of a perfectionist, and getting it just right is something that has (so far) taken five years. I spend so much time going back through what I’ve already written, finding parts that don’t work, reworking them, finding out later they need to be reworked again. And again. And erased. And rewritten. And edited. I’d say at least ninety percent of my time spent writing this book so far has been consumed with editing. I’m not sure if other writers are the same, but I find my tastes in writing seem to be continually evolving, and so what sounds good changes frequently. When the time scale of evolution is distended to something like five years, the change is … well, considerable.

I came across this quote tonight as I was looking for something to spice up the post. “Make it great, no matter how long it takes. There’s no such thing as too many drafts. There’s no such thing as too much time spent. As you well know, a great book can last forever. A great book can change a person’s life. A mediocre book is just commerce.” That’s courtesy of David Shenk, author of The Forgetting and The Genius in All of Us. That kind of gives me a little reassurance that all this editing is going to pay off. Cause honestly? I feel like I’m moving at a slug’s pace here.

Today I tried something different though. For starters, instead of waiting until 11:00 at night to start writing and watching the minutes tick away until I get to tired to write at all and put it off until tomorrow again, I hit the ground running and started writing right out of bed this morning. Then  when I was stuck with my writing, I took a long shower. Then came back and wrote some more. I had some really clever ideas and the juices were flowing. Then I got stuck so I had some lunch, watched some Frasier, played some video games, went for a walk, and came back and finished writing an excellent ending to my chapter. Normally I say, “Well, it’s time to write, so I guess I’ll write.” Then I sit there for hours until I have those sacred thousand words. But I’m pretty pleased with how my segmented writing session went today. Whenever I can update this site, and meet my writing goal for the day, it’s a good day.

So yeah, finished chapter thirteen, which bumps me up to 53,358 words so far. I’m not sure what the total will end up being. But I’m feeling pretty good about it so far, and I’m gearing up for a total re-edit when I hit 60,000 words. Maybe. There’s a significant part coming up that will be the conclusion to the first book in the novel. I’ll edit when I get there. But point is I’m excited, and even with innumerable hours of editing behind me, and countless yet to come, I feel somewhat vindicated. I’m editing because it will be a damn good book. And while it may not turn out to be as wildly popular as Harry Potter or Twilight, I’ll take comfort knowing that it wasn’t written for commerce.

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6 thoughts on “Writing Versus Editing

  1. I wouldn’t worry about spending too much time on editing. Just write and edit the way you want to. I think putting a timeframe on writing and editing can cause enough stress to interrupt a writer’s flow.

    I agree, you don’t have to push out book after book to be successful. Look at Marilynne Robinson. Two novels 24 years apart. The first one ‘Housekeeping’ was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The second, ‘Gilead’ won!

    You must be doing okay to get to 50,000 plus words (you know, not everyone can do this), so relax, enjoy your writing and your editing. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, so much. That’s very, very encouraging, I really appreciate it. We do have to work at our own pace, but it’s very difficult not to compare yourself to other authors out there who churn out two books a year, and they aren’t bad books either. Bernard Cornwell writes at a pretty furious pace, and I happen to think that, while his books aren’t earth shattering or phenomenal, they are consistently well written and on the whole, very good. But thank you for the reply! It took Tolkein 12 years to write Lord of the Rings, and it was over 500,000 words long. I’ll settle for five years and 150,000 words. =)

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  2. I HATE editing *groan* it’s all the revising and rewrites that get me down. I get to the stage where I can bear to look at it anymore lol.

    I have a friend who has been editing the same novel for 10 years now….10 years!!!!! At what stage do you say enough is enough and step away from the laptop? Lol

    I admire your determination hon, good for you and good luck 🙂

    Xx

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  3. Oh…. GOD. ten years? I would die. I’m hoping to have this finished up in a year, with the knowledge that in my eyes, it will never be done. It will simply be “good enough”. =) Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. From one writer to another, you’re actually doing the right thing with the whole editing part and spending a lot of time on it. I’m the complete opposite of you, I don’t edit enough, and that’s where my work suffers. I truly think your work benefits from spending as much time editing on it as you do. I personally just don’t have the patience to sit there and edit away haha. Anyways, good luck with your writing!! =)

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  5. Everybody handles this differently; some write raw draft and throw the ‘inner editor’ out of doors while so doing; some hack together an outline and use it as a prompt or navigation device; some do extensive planning in advance and then write… but nobody escapes editing. I look to the film-makers for my example: you shoot more than you need, you stand ready to re-shoot it if it doesn’t work, and you treat your work as fluid, able to be chopped up and rearranged for dramatic effect.

    Best editing resources ever: Browne and King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and the section in revision in Stephen Koch’s The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop (chapter 7 forward).

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