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The Monster that Stalks Me

Editing is a tedious, frustrating, yet necessary evil. To put it bluntly, it’s a scary process, and until it’s done, it looms over me, breathing it’s rank, guilt-laden breath down the back of my neck. I love working on someone else’s story and helping them round out the rough edges and make their story even better than it started. I can see the jewel in there, and I’m good at helping them bring it out and polish it.

Sitting down to my own is another thing.

I “remember” what I wrote. I remember something that flowed with lyrical ease from the tips of my fingers and remember wrapping up an entire masterpiece before laying it aside to ferment and grow beautiful.

Pulling it out, I discover nothing but a mess. Things I remembered being rich and vivid only exist in skeletal form, if they’re there at all. The things I thought were brilliant make me scratch my head and try to remember what the hell I was thinking so I can attempt to translate the gobbledy-gook to something close to proper English. It is an exercise that tests my faith in my skills and my perseverance every time I sit down to do it. I know it’s a necessary thing and one that will ultimately make me a better writer, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Recently, I pulled out “Shame,” a story I wrote not too long ago that I just knew was just going to blow me away. I was disappointed to find that it was more a robust outline of a story and not the creepy ghost/haunted house chiller I expected. It clocked in at ~3,400 words and all the lush imagery I thought I had put in there somehow evaporated, leaving behind the skeletal framework of the story. Thankfully, this was one I hadn’t put back for more than a few weeks, so it was fresher than some of the others I’ve worked on in the past. I broke Heinlein’s 3rd rule, but I think it was justifiable. I took the printed story and re-wrote it, page by page, and this time by hand, forcing myself to slow down and really consider what was going into it. Other than the cramp in my right hand and shoulder, I was glad I did. The finished piece (after another clean-up edit) weighs in at ~5,500 words and is much more satisfying to read. The ambiance of the story is more developed and I even creeped myself out with the ending. I’m hoping that others feel the same. My intent is to give it one more quick glance and I’ll send it to my betas to shred.

Discussing what I’d done with a fellow writer, our conversation turned to revision and re-writing, and how this “rule” might be subject to misinterpretation by those who follow Heinlein’s rules as if they were Commandments of Writing. Our conversation boiled down to a mutual agreement….that re-writing is sometimes necessary to achieve the quality work you want to put out on the market. After all, aspiring to greatness is never a bad thing, and if you work at it, it’s possible. We came to the consensus that Rule 3 could be interpreted in a more lenient way – Quit Tinkering With It Already and Send It Out! No story is ever perfect, but at some point, they reach Good Enough and you have to learn to identify it, accept it and be proud of what you’ve done. Keeping the fermentation period short also seems to help, since I can actually remember what I was thinking and remember my expectations for the story when I pull it back out. It makes “fixing” a little easier, and a little less discouraging. Not much, mind you, but a little less.

So for now, I’m off to go find Good Enough for my short story “The Manuscript.” Let’s hope that it’s as awesome as I remember and I’m not going to stare down the editing monster in another epic battle of wits. I don’t know that I can do two back to back like this! 😉

Until next time…

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