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The Curse of the Compulsive Edit

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The Curse of the Compulsive Edit

Sara General

I started work on the second draft of my story this week and immediately fell victim to compulsive editing syndrome.  I had gotten all the way through Chapter Three by the time I realized what was happening.   I had done exactly what Stephen King’s On Writing and other articles that talk about the process of the second edit advise not to do.

Having started the edit, it was hard to pull myself away from the book.  I was excited after all, thrilled with the fact that I had managed to write the basic first draft in four weeks and certain that I could manage the second draft just as quickly.

Except that I had forgotten what had made the first draft flow so quickly – a clear plan for how the story unfolded.   The truth is, characters change in the telling of a story, at least mine did.  They grow and they become something more in your head and whatever they become can often get missed on the page in the mad rush to put down word after word.   When I was finally able to peel myself away, I was able to see that things were missing.

Funnily enough, I was only able to pull myself away out of sheer exhaustion. I was researching a lot of things this week and my brain was on hyper-drive.  I wanted to do everything all at once.  Read, write, draw, research, tweet, blog, work, sleep, you name it.   But no one can do everything at once.  Instead, I had to schedule time where I could sit down and read my book all in one piece and in a way that didn’t make me want to run to my computer and start to make edits.  I did this by saving a PDF of my book and reading it off of my ipad, sticky notes at the ready – a nice tip I got from Ksenia Anske, who’s sticky board is an organizational tool I adore.

After the read through, I went back to my trusted outline, scrolled to the bottom and started to make notes of what I had found overall in the story.  This included areas where things were moving too quickly, where characters seemed to not be pulling their weight, and a backstory that was motivating my protagonist in a huge way that wasn’t evident on the page.  I noticed a huge emotional driver for my character that hadn’t been given any attention at all in the text.

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything else, so I read a bunch of articles online about people’s experience with the second edit.  Reading through the ideas and questions other people ask their story during the second edit was extremely helpful to me.  My next step will be to take what I have found and consider where I can build/write those pieces into the overall foundation of the story.   As Stephen King puts it, I need to ask myself the Big Questions about what it all means, reinforce the themes and meanings I find and scrap the things that go in the opposite direction.

So that is how I am going to be spending the rest of my Saturday and the next few weeks.  I also decided to start a new short story this weekend, something that I’ve been thinking about for the last few days.  It’s inspired by a cool little Haudenosaunee legend and also some reading and thinking I’ve been doing about Treaties and Wampum Belts.  The last few mornings I found myself waking up thinking about it, and I can already tell that working on a new project will help me stay focussed on the editing work that needs to be done on The Whirlwind’s Prophecy – the working title of my book.

Happy editing everyone! Let’s make these stories sing!

S