Sunday, January 28, 2007

Editing is hard.

Which is, I suspect, why I traditionally do so little of it.

But I formally decided a couple of nights ago that, not only would I allow myself to consider editing work as part of the "write every day" resolution, I would start off my editing work on the big one -- the novel that I finished in the summer of 2005, "Waiting for a Miracle."

I made this decision for a few reasons.

First, I really do want to keep up with the resolution, but it's not even the end of January and I've already done a horrible job of it. Lately, with two plays on the go, the last thing I want to do when I get home is crawl up to the computer and spend an hour at my desk. I want to just drop into the sofa, turn on some music, and relax. Editing is writing work that I can do on the sofa, if I've got some pages waiting for me.

The second reason is that, for the most part, I hate editing. When I'm finished writing something, the last thing I want to do is look at it again. I want to move onto something fresh and new and exciting. By allowing myself to include editing work as part of the resolution, it gives me a reason to do something I don't much enjoy, when I'm too lazy to do the actual writing work.

And the third reason evolved out of a conversation I had after the play on Friday night.

I asked a few people to help me choose a new career. The question came out, partly as a joke on the current trend that most people have four or five different careers in their lifetime, unlike people in the past who would generally stick with one career through their entire working life. And it came out partly as a result of a certain degree of employment dissatisfaction I've been feeling lately.

Among the many suggestions that were tossed at me (some good, some odd, and some downright dreadful), someone said, "Write a good book."

Which got me thinking. Maybe I should.

Which got me thinking, hey, wait a minute, I almost have. I've got a book that's pretty darn good, and probably just needs some cleaning up before it's of publishable quality. And all I really need to get it there is to, you know, actually work on it.

So I printed out the first two chapters of the novel tonight, double-spaced for easier editing. That amounted to about seventy-five printed pages (which is actually quite a lot, leading me to consider splitting some of these earlier chapters into smaller chunks), and promptly started work on editing a novel for the first time in just about ever.

And holy fuck, editing is hard.

I spent two hours, and made it through about twelve pages. Twelve double-spaced pages. There's black marks everywhere, sentences added, sentences modified, whole paragraphs yanked out. I'm ripping this book to absolute shreds, and it's actually a book I'm more than a little bit fond of. I can only imagine the sort of editing work that would go into something I didn't like at all. Although, more reastically, if I didn't like it at all, I doubt I'd bother with the editing work. You can't polish a turd, as they say.

And I'm only one night, and two hours, and 12 pages into this editing job, and I'm already wondering, when I'm done all this, when I've transferred all the changes back into the document, so it's a true reflection of this version of the story, when I'm done all that, will I be able to look at it and not make any further changes? Or, if I let the book sit for another six months, would I find myself making just as many edits as I did this time? Would I end up going through this whole process all over again?

This is what I'm afraid of. This, more than anything else, is why I don't edit. Because once you start, you can edit forever.

I have a book called "Paper Dreams." I first wrote it, as a novella, in 1990. Since then it has been rewritten, from scratch, another three or four times. Each time it's become considerably better. Each time I've found new things under the surface that can be mined for meaning, for significance. And each time I find myself thinking, "Wow, this is really, really good."

And, inevitably, time goes by and I look at the book again, and find myself think, "Oh, that's shit. I should just start that over again."

This is why I don't edit.

But I have to, and so I will. I have to make "Waiting for a Miracle" is good as humanly possible. Because I really want to be able to proudly send it to publishers. I really want an editor somewhere to read it, and then phone me, desperate to be able to put it into print. I want this book to have a life outside of a folder in my computer. I want people to read it, to experience it, to be moved by it. I want an audience.

And yeah, I'm thinking maybe "Write a good book," isn't a bad idea for a next career.

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