Wednesday, April 09, 2008


There's something exhilarating, a definite sense of freedom, when I clean house.  The daily drudge work (with the exception of vacuuming--I've always liked vacuuming) I could do without, or at least have less laundry and dishes.  But I actually enjoy getting places cleared out, making things shine.  Today I cleaned out the woodstove.  The glass is all sparkly and the ashes are swept out.  I also swept the stairs (they're carpet but I find sweeping is faster and actually does a better job than vacuuming most of the time) and cleared out part of my office in preparation for tiling.  

Yep, I'm getting back to tiling my office.  

If I could get this same sense of cleaning out and freedom and exhilaration when I edit a story, that would be so fabulous.  Unfortunately I end up pinched between Charybdis (that sinking feeling that I'm making things worse, not better) and The Scylla (getting frustrated with the many layers involved in editing and the fact that it's both a big scope (plot) and small scope (line editing) problem that requires many passes.)  I get exhausted by the immensity of the task.  

Typing at normal pace I can write a first draft in three months.  I can write a Nano in a month, also.  But regardless of how quickly I write that first draft, it takes years to edit it.  That's normal.  A book should take years to put together.  A very skilled writer can write a passable book in six months or less.  Yes, I include romance writers in this category.  There's no doubt in my mind that they're skilled, talented and prolific writers, all traits I admire, and I won't hear a thing said against them.  However, if you gave a romance writer 2-3 years to write a book, you'd end up with a real masterwork.  Someone like me who isn't as skilled at editing would have garbage at the end of six months.  After 2-3 years, I have something passable, or maybe even pretty good.  The time frame, though, really wears me down.  It's not so much the hours.  I love to write, and I even like to edit at times.  It's the number of times going through the manuscript.  

Sometimes I get lucky and I don't have major plot issues on a first draft.  Yay me, because that saves a great deal of headache in the long run.  Unfortunately, more often than not there are plot and structure issues, character issues, and other major stuff that has to be addressed.  By the time that's sorted out, the line editing is a mess, flow is an issue and often there are stylistic issues as I struggle to find character voices, the feel of the setting and other things.  The trick is to make as few passes as possible so that the writing still has freshness and fire.  Each time a writer goes through the document they improve things, but they also polish off some of the good stuff.  It's like a grain of rice.  You start out with this rough, richly-colored grain that's typically too coarse to enjoy (at least in quantity.)  If you polish off some of that coating you get something more palatable, but you also lose nutrients and that wonderful color.  Flavor is also lost.  Polish too much and you end up with short grain white rice--incredibly bland but fully digestible, and also constipating.  Heh.

Like everything else it's a balancing act.  As I improve my editing skills I'm sure it won't be such a chore, but for now, editing is the endless laundry and dishes of the writing world.


Carissa said...

Thanks for the perspective on writing versus editing. I think I needed to hear that right now.

I'll do a little swap, though, and add short stories to the mix. If months were weeks, then years would seem like months (said in my best Spock voice).

So, three weeks to write a short story. Two or three months to edit (or less, depending on the size of the story). Which means a little more practice editing a piece through to the end while hammering away at novels.

I'm finding this useful in honing (or rather beginning) my editing skills.

Power to the People!

(I have no idea where that came from).

Kami said...

Heh. I like it. Power to the people!

Glad to be of service, and extra glad that I'm not alone on the lonely quest to hone editing skills. Blech, yech, and yet sometimes I feel strangely drawn to editing, like a saber-toothed tiger to the tar pits.

sophie said...

I'm procrastinating on the next edit...

Very strange things happen when I edit. The writing course I did demanded short story lengths sometimes half or a third of my first draft in length. With every 'trim', the ordinary prose disappears and something my sister would probably call 'musicality' starts to take over. I like this. A lot.
But it's a total pipe dream imagining that I could end up with a complete novel in that style.
Until I saw this weird musical/poetry stuff starting to consistently emerge from the mutilated first drafts, I was very resistant to the idea of chopping out all the 'meat' for the sake of an arbitrary word count.