Em's place

Writing, anxiety-wrangling, tea.

Editing Madness

By Emma on July 30, 2012

I’ve been editing the second book of the Split Worlds series for the last month and to be honest, I feel a little ragged. I always get horribly miserable when editing and thought it might be a good idea to write it all out instead of letting it fester. I want to salvage something other than an improved manuscript from the experience.

Lies, damn lies

The Crazy always gets strong when I’m editing. Nah, who am I kidding; I’m always managing the Crazy. It just gets particularly loud in this stage of a book’s evolution. Here’s the two thoughts it most frequently produces:

“This book is a steaming pile of excrement that would do more good spread over a local field.”

Ah, that one comes up again and again. I’m sure all writers believe this at some point.

“My agent / publisher / grandmother / every book reviewer * will hate this book.”
* any of these and others appeared at one point

Sometimes it’s just that worrisome thought, sometimes it’s a scene played out in my head like a film. My anxiety demons have a huge special effects budget. Gits.

I’ve been living with anxiety long enough to be able to know that thinking something is true does not mean that thing is true.

As for whether my book is good, bad or steaming and stinky there is only one thing for me to remember: I cannot really know at this stage. All I can do is tell the story that needs to come out in the best way that I can. That’s why I have my agent Jen (thank goodness!) and all the other people between the book leaving my brain and ending up in the hands of the book-buying public. Agents and editors are able to see what works and what doesn’t better than I can right now.

Pernicious perfectionism

The other reason editing gets me down is that I spend hours every day finding errors and things I could have done better. My perfectionist streak flares up worse than asthma on a damp October morning and before I realise what’s happened my mood has plummeted. Someone on Twitter (sorry, I can’t remember who) was talking about how they love editing because they can see their book getting better. Alas, if only I could focus so well on the positive; for me, editing is a close examination of all of the things I’ve screwed up.

The mental game

The Olympics are on at the time of writing this and I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the importance of the mind when competing in sport. I’m as sporty as a broken teapot so I can’t really speak from extensive sporting experience but editing this latest book has given me a new appreciation of the importance of managing one’s mind in the writing life. During this latest edit I’ve been grumpy, I’ve lost faith in myself and I’ve believed – really believed – that I’m going to fail. But none of it is real. The only thing that really exists is the steady forwards progress, day after day, chapter after chapter until finally I reach the end and send it off to the robot overlords.

I’ve come to realise that the separation of mood and editing is just as important as the separation of mood and writing. That’s something I’m going to hang onto when I plunge into the next round of edits. That, and a large cup of tea.

Does any of this sound familiar or are you one of those lucky souls who can breeze through edits without having to wrestle demons on the way? Any advice on how to stay sane?

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{ 11 comments... read them below, or add one }

  1. If you meet someone who can “breeze through edits”, let me know. I will hunt them down and make them suffer!

    (Okay, not really. I kid. Mostly.)

    I can totally relate. I do all of my own editing (mostly because I’m cheap ;D), and I usually end up 6 or more edits per book. I’m also muttering to myself, cursing at other people in alien tongues, and waving my hands in the air like a sorcerer.

    The only “advice” I can give is, if you work on a deadline, to allow yourself a lot more time than you think you’ll need for editing. That’s where I always run into trouble — thinking I can take care of it and realizing I actually need an extra 2 weeks.

  2. Larry Kollar says:

    I just feel wrenched around when I’m editing. I don’t think it’s going to be a total flop, although I don’t expect it to storm the best-seller lists either. I don’t worry about getting it perfect, although I will probably freak out when I find a typo after it’s released.

    I just don’t want to admit that I might not have worded something properly, or that a sentence or two might need to be rewritten. OTOH, I laughed when the editor caught a couple obvious plot point screwups, even though it led to having to fix several other things down-story. Weird, huh? I don’t mind hearing about “macro” issues, but I get uptight over hearing about “micro” issues.

    And yes, I’m about to begin applying final edits to my own work. Then it’s on to pulling my hair out getting the MOBI right for Amazon, then pulling out the rest getting the Word file right for Smashwords. :-P

  3. Anne Lyle says:

    Edits don’t bother me – I’m a left-brained discovery writer who enjoys the challenge of wrestling a rough draft into a readable form. The rough draft itself, though? That’s what has me tearing out my hair, begging my Muse to play nicely and make with the cool plot ideas before I run out of deadline.

    Each to his own neurosis, I guess!

    • Emma says:

      Hehe, I’m the exact opposite! I love the first draft, it’s where I feel the thrill of writing books. I love how different we all are :)

  4. Editing is like being stuck in a dull marriage. New stories and adventures try to tempt you away every time you come to a sentence you’ve read a million times already – ‘I don’t know what I ever saw in him’, ‘I don’t know why I’m wasting my time here’. You just have to take a leap of faith and keep working at it and hope that the spark that drew you in and the resulting splurge can eventually be honed into something much deeper and more meaningful after the hard work!

  5. paul says:

    You’re right. Editing is the hardest work you’ll be called upon
    to do as a writer. It’s much more enjoyable to plot and write
    the initial drafts. Then comes the commercial part, the book
    must be sold. My advice: do some editing each day, whether you
    feel like or not; then reward yourself by engaging in a more
    pleasant activity.

  6. Tony Noland says:

    Editing is a mixed bag for me. I have to get past the recurring feeling that this (whatever “this” I happen to be working on) is a dreadful waste of my time and I should stick it in a drawer so I can work on something better. While I do like seeing the work improve, the moments of joy at seeing the work get better are interspersed with frustration at the hard slog.

  7. When I first got some clippers to shave my own head, my friend’s advice was ‘when you think it’s finished, go over it all again…’

    Same with editing, except you can’t hide any mistakes with a hat.

  8. As we all know, huge amount of my time are hoovered up by editing… but editing the work of others. The last month I’ve been working on my own work, a horror novella, and I can’t think of it as editing. To me it is revising, rewriting, reworking… for some reason it’s never editing. What’s in a name anyway?

    What the revision period of my novella showed me is just how torrid editing actually is. When I’m editing the work of others I just feel drained, like I’ve got an IV drips into the stories and over the course of several weeks they just bleed me dry. I feel tired, my eyes go dull and it’s like dragging myself through. My mood becomes bleak (like you mentioned) and I turn up to work with a mixture of dread and antagonism. At the end I’m stripped and fall down in a big crash.

    At the end of revision, even after putting in 40 hours across a few days, with little sleep, I didn’t quite bounce out of it, but I came away with a lightness of step I didn’t anticipate. The crash come to swallow me whole. I’m not sure why.

    This too will pass Em, and while you have doubt you are surrounded by plenty of people who have your back who believe in you, love your work and are happy to pull out their James Brown mix tapes and pom poms to spur you on. Someone wise once told me if all else fails, if it all feels like too much, make a pot of tea. She was right!

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