On editing pains

by Ksenia Anske in


If you think it's not physical, the editing pain, then you've never edited before. Mine is lodged directly in between the diaphragm and the stomach, in one thorny belt that chooses when to punch me and when to let me go. There is no getting rid of it, until the editing is done. And the reasons to feel the pain are aplenty.

Cutting out useless characters. Didn't somebody say, kill your darlings? Ah, yeah, Stephen King did. So did William Faulkner. Oh, how beautifully painful it was. Cutting down from 32 to 4 main characters. Cutting whole pages of dialogue. Throwing into the trashcan long documents on their personal history, their moms and dads and home towns and school friends. Ouch. But it had to be done. Less is more. Somebody else said that one. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe this time.

Show, don't tell. Isn't this the golden rule. I cringed when I came across "He stared. She stared back." That was me who wrote it. Like one of my fellow writers said, this would make Stephenie Meyer gag. Rightfully so. No emotion, no description, nothing. That was me just charging along to finish the 1st draft. I thought back then, ah, whatever, I will edit it later. Exactly. Welcome to bleeding right now. Show, don't tell. Show, don't tell. Next time I write the 1st draft, I won't be so quick.

That one perfect sentence. There are moments in my story when something profound happens. The problem is, it's profound in my head, but it's far from being profound on the page. I try, try again. Nothing. It looks bland, unoriginal. I try again, harder. The problem with the whole "trying" is this - I try too hard. Instead, I have to feel and write what it feels like. But, hey, it hurts feeing it! So I squirm and hide and pull myself by the hair out of that writer's block corner, and MAKE myself feel. It hurts, but it's true. Then I try to write it down.

Dialogue is spoken, not written. I've learned this lesson the first time I dared to read my own writing out loud. Be glad you weren't there. To say it was atrocious is to not say anything at all. Do people speak like that?!? You bet they don't. Where did this evern come from? I don't know, from some hidden belief that I know how people talk. Well, I don't. I started taking notes after coming home in the after-party evenings, and then read them out loud , to hear what it sounds like. This is the most painful part for me. What would he say, what would she say, how would they say it? You get the point.

Grammar. We all hated it in school. Too bad. It makes the story readable, and this is where I fail miserably. Since English is not my first language, I studied it till I thought I was good. Wrong. I didn't grow up here and I say some tings in the way that they make no sense. I carry with me The Elements of Style everyhwhere I go. I dutyfully read it page by page and try to memorize as many rules as possible. Still, I fail. Ugh. That was another twist of the thorny belt, in case you were wondering.

What else? Of course there are bigger things like plot, continuity, structure, and cross-checking the facts. I'm sure there is more, but there are good books already written on those subjects.

The biggest of them all, for me, is the daily anxiety of not being perfect, of not getting to the point where I can't change another sentence, another word. But somebody else already said, it doesn't have to be perfect. Still. I battle this anxiety, and I'm impatient. I want it all now, and all of it perfectly done. That's lack of faith. Faith that good writing takes time. So what now? Off to bleeding the pain. Off to editing. Off I go.

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