Sunday, 29 October 2017

First thoughts on editing: N M Browne

I want to write about editing but I don’t know where to start - no I mean, really. I make a start and then I decide that I have begun in the
wrong tense and in the wrong place and I quietly delete the line. Again. And this is the problem with editing - once you really get into it. Unless you have written a perfect sentence, rejigging is kind of de rigueur: all writing is re writing. And thank you Mr Hemingway.

 I was happier before I knew that. In pre computer days I only ever wrote anything once - in long-hand with a limited number of crossings out. It never occurred to me to do anything else. The first time someone suggested I edit my initial perfectly adequate words I was nonplussed: whatever for? Now, well  everything is up for grabs all the time. Every word, sentence, paragraph, chapter is up for reconsideration and re envisioning, reworking and revising. It is exhausting.
I hate editing - there I’ve said it. I hate having to rethink. Thinking once is bad enough, thinking again is too much.
  I love the exciting tight rope walk of the first draft. A new novel is a three ring circus in which the ring master is not entirely sure of the cast let alone the programme. I love the rabbit from the hat moment when I realise that the strong man is really a bearded lady and the elephant, the star of the high wire. Ok sometimes the first draft might suffer from some small logical incosistencies and the odd imaginative leap, but it it often has a mad kind of energy, an urgency that makes the writing fun.
 Editing is all about the boring stuff: the obligation to write coherent sentence with full stops and everything, plotting that makes sense, consistent characters - all that nonsense. I reluctantly accept that it is necessary, it’s just that I liked the certainty of my own past when first thoughts were only thoughts and editing meant checking for spelling mistakes and the (many) misplaced commas. Back then things just were the way I first wrote them, fixed and immutable as fact. I miss that. 
However much I like to pretend that my first idea is often my best , experience suggests that this is a self decieving, ego deluding, fabrication. My first draft is often rubbish, it has just taken me many years to admit it.
So, yes editing. If you want to be a writer you have to do it - a lot. Who knew?


1 comment:

jaceybedford said...

I'm a bit weird. I actually enjoy editing. In fact, sometimes I think I prefer editing to first drafts. Maybe. I tend to do a bit of rolling revision. When I'm writing first drafts. I always look back at what I wrote yesterday and do a bit of tweaking. Tweaking text is only one aspect of editing though. There's the whole structural thing of moving scenes around, adding and subtracting until the plot falls into place and the pacing seems about right. That's not something you can do until the whole first draft is finished. I write in Scrivener and find it's very good for restructuring because you can drag and drop whole scenes into the right place.