Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Your Best VERSUS Best For Your Story

This week I started "proper" editing. In theory I have been editing this book for the whole of February, but in practice it was more about brainstorming a plot layer I want to add, making some revision notes, and generally worrying about how daunting the whole thing was, and how I was never going to get that damn book finished because I was never going to get on with the editing.

Of course the rational part of my brain knew it was silly. After all, I have edited short stories and I am perfectly capable of doing it. I wrote and edited 20000 words Thesis for University. So it's not the editing - it's the fear that everything has to make sense and tie up and flow smoothly through the entire book, and somehow my vision just won't translate on the page. But of course that was silly, because unless I actually start doing the work, it's not going to get done.

So having plucked up the courage, and also having run out of excuses to do more brainstorming without actually applying changes, I started proper edits couple of days ago. Doing so, and fitting it in nicely with my first assignment from Empowering Characters Emotions class, I had to examine few sentences individually. After spending more time than what one would usually devote to one sentence, I had two reactions! - WOW and OH CRAP.

WOW - The difference in those sentences was considerable. Of course, it wouldn't apply to every sentence, because some sentences have to basic. But just reading them now, compared to what they were before, I feel proud to read them. That is not to say they are perfect. I might even change them if they don't fit in with the final draft, but they are much much better than what I initially had, and they came not from any clever tricks, but from bit more thought. So that was the WOW.

OH CRAP - was because I realised how much time and effort and thought I would need to give to my entire manuscript, sentence by sentence, if I am to have that much impact on the entire book. Believe me, for someone who dreams of writing one book after another, and considers patience to be a theoretical concept, it's a nightmare. But the end result is worth it, so I know I have to make that effort.

That's what the title of this post is about. Doing your best as you are now, might be enough. It might even produce a saleable book, or it might not. Doing your best, you can tell yourself that you did what you could, so you can live with the end product.

But to do the best for your book might mean you need to push yourself beyond your best. You need to extend your own boundaries, try new things, let go of preconceptions or of a solid plan you may have in mind. You need to think not only of what you want from your story, but what your story needs. Our stories are organic things - they are not just objects churned out of a production line. They come from our minds and soul, bear what we are and what we believe or don't believe. Each story carries an essence of its author. Does it not deserve then to be written as best as possible so that it stands there out in the world as its true self - the original vision that you once imagined in the beginning of creative frenzy, before you started worrying about outlines and structures and publishers?

I believe it does. I want to be a career novelist, but more than that, I want to be a story-teller who portrays the story's true self.


  1. (You need to fix your Linkwithin thing, it's linking to your old address, and not bringing up the posts.)

    Personally, I edit to the best of my ability, and then don't worry about whether it can be further improved. If it can, your agent and editor will let you know about it. ;)

    The more you edit, the easier it becomes, and the clearer your future first drafts become. :)


    PS - Hope this made sense, I'm functioning on very little sleep...

  2. I'm right there with you on the "Wow" and "Oh Crap" concepts...isn't it just amazing how much *better* even one sentence can be with a different turn of phrase? I don't consider this to be "craft" - this is the part of writing that is "art" in my mind. I love it. It's such a wonderful "high".

    And yeah, that overwhelming "ohmygodthisisgoingtotakeforever" feeling sucks dirt. But I suspect that like everything else, it won't take nearly as long as we think it will if we just get out of our own way and keep working.

    I think this post is a great example of the constant contradiction in every writer's mind - writing-for-sale vs. writing-for-art. We all just have to figure out where we can settle within the continuum...

  3. Adam,

    Thanks. I will have to look into Linkwithin thing.

    I am a natural worry-wart (as my husband affectionately says) - so the more important something is, the more I am likely to worry. But I am trying to improve :P

    And yes, sleepless post does make sense.

  4. Jamie,

    You are definitely right. Things are never (almost never) nearly as bad as we think they are. Once I get started, I keep going - but it's like working out - getting started is the hardest bit. Or it is for me.

    I personally think editing is a delicate combination of logic and art where you must think of what the story needs, the best word, the best rhythm, but also what the reader will get out of it.

  5. Dolly this was a wonderful post! I understand the Wow's and Oh Crap's as well...

    I'm not still working on getting the plot and consistency right, then I'll be moving onto the sentence structure, I'm sure there a lot of changes to come! Good luck with your editing ;o)

  6. Great thoughts! It's inevitable and slightly embarrassing that we'll look back on things we wrote a few years ago (or maybe even just a few months ago) and cringe: "Was I really that bad?" But it's ultimately an awesome experience, because it means we're growing. Making the next novel better than the last is always my goal.

  7. Erica,
    thanks :-) I was going to focus on one thing at a time, but that didn't work out so well, so now I am sort of winging it.

    K. M.,
    Yes, being able to spot that growth does give me amazing feeling. :-)

  8. I get so stressed out when I think about editing because I HATE HATE HATE it! I've been blessed with a crit group that loves the editing process, so they encourage me and I sometimes...sometimes get caught up in their enthusiasm. Sometimes.

  9. Palindrome,

    My initial reaction to Editing was dislike, but I am trying very hard to look at it positively.