I think Anne Lammott gets the credit for establishing the power of “shitty first drafts.” She says as long as you sit down and write something, anything, you have the chance at editing something terrible, into something good, into something terrific. But if you have nothing in front of you, you have nothing to cultivate, and that’s not a good feeling. Until the beginning of this summer, I was lost in that uncultivated place. I had been told so many times, both blatantly and insidiously, that was I stupid, that my values were misplaced, and that my project was unimportant, that I couldn’t hear the voices telling me I was good at my work. As a consequence, I developed a bit of rust. Not engineless-tractor-in-the-cow-shed kind of rust, but a layer just deep enough to make each attempt to restart my project a slog. Given my depleted confidence, I interpreted that slog as incompetence. But eventually, with enough distance from
I expected to have additional lessons from the back half of the first edit to share with you, but it turns out that by the time you’re that far into your piece, it’s really about applying everything you’ve already learned and picking up speed. Instead, new lessons come this time from my first forays into the dialogue read-aloud. Yet again, the learning curve has been a bit of a shock. Yet again, I figured I would be quick about it, soaring through this new form of editing like a trumpeter swan. After all, I’ve already edited the entire book once for major plot and character overhaul. How hard could it be to read the thing out loud and fix a little grammar? Hard. Real Hard. Like, I-am-less-a-swan-and-more-a-barnyard-chicken hard. So, in the spirit of transparency and education…some further lessons. Lesson thirteen: Fill out character sheets I know. I know I said in the last set of lessons that you would know
Halfway done! Halfway done. …..halfway done…*collapses* And the lessons this time are about trust–of self, of other authors, of characters, of ability. Lesson eight: The iceberg metaphor I think the majority of us have probably heard the iceberg metaphor: maybe because we were emo teens with “complex” emotional lives that vibrated below the surface; maybe because our teachers had a poster up on the wall, desperately trying to drive home how much actual work goes into a project. But if not, it goes like this. For every 5% of material that makes it to the page, there is another 95% of material supporting it silently, unseen, from behind the scenes. In other words, if you don’t know the world you built inside and out, if you don’t where your story is going at all times, or if you don’t know why your characters say the things they do, based on backstory and motivation, your shit is going to get wrecked.
Welp, it’s been a month, and I’m six chapters down with twenty-four to go. This, uh…this is not where I
I’ve been editing my academic work for years. I’ve edited approximately a million papers, a masters thesis, dissertation pieces, and countless student submissions. I’m good at it. I figured I would be good at fiction editing, too. LOLS Well, to be self-compassionate, I wouldn’t say I’m straight up bad at fiction editing. But I would definitely say that I was being coy with myself when I set my expectations, and that chapter one has provided the rudest of awakenings. Awakenings provide lessons, though. So, in the spirit of education, here’s what I’ve learned so far about editing… Lesson One: Your characters will be strangers If this is your first big piece of fiction (and maybe even if it’s your third or fourth) you’re going to look back at your first chapter and wonder what the hell is even going on with these characters you thought you knew so well. A reminder: You do. You do know them. But you didn’t
On January 21st, right before the full moon, I tied the hard copy of my manuscript up with ribbons and