March was Nanoedmo (National Novel Editing Month). Yes, I know it is April, but the effect of Nanoedmo still has not left me. The idea of Nanoedmo is to spend 50 hours in one month editing. The idea’s obviously inspired by Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), which calls on participants to write 50,000 words in one month.
This was my first year attempting Nanoedmo. Nanowrimo has always appealed to me much more. I’ve always loved the act of producing a first draft way more than I like the act of producing second and third drafts ad nauseum, and I’ve written before about how an important part of my maturation as a writer has involved learning from editors what to do after producing draft 1.
Nanoedmo was a profound experience for me. I did not make the 50-hour goal–I did not quite make half that many hours. But it solidified for me one growing realization: my reluctance to spend time editing is the main thing standing in my way right now.
The first big hurdle of writing is to learn to write, instead of spending time thinking about writing. I’ve gotten through that. I write all the time. And I’ve learned to get all the way to the end of a draft (in most cases) before moving on to something else. I remember the moment when I learned that I needed to do this. I was flipping through a writing notebook, and realized that I had dozens of stories that lasted exactly a page and a half and trailed off. Clearly, at a page and a half in, I hit a crisis of confidence that causes me to abandon ship. I realized that I had to survive that crisis come hell or high water, or I was never going to get off the ground with anything. So. Great victory there. But…
I now have tons of finished first drafts that need a lot of work. And my reluctance to edit has nothing to do with thinking that editing’s not needed. Believe me, I know it’s needed, and I’m pleased with the results when I do put in the time. But I’m sitting on five completed novel drafts, a completed screenplay, and countless short stories because editing’s not the fun part for me.
Nanoedmo kicked off what I hope will be a lot of editing this year. I’m toughing my way through a deadly edit that I started in March. It’s a hard science fiction novella that I think’s got great potential. It needs a rigorous edit to make sure that the science makes sense and to smooth my various (and numerous) writing tics. I’m about halfway through. It’s satisfying, but hard to keep going. That problem with a confidence crisis about a page and a half into a first draft seems to hit about every two paragraphs in a second draft, especially since my usual trick in a first draft is to just turn off my mental editor, and that doesn’t exactly work when I’m editing…
One of the issues for me while editing is that I have trouble setting goals that work. For producing first drafts, I know about how many words I can write in a given time period, and so I have a decent sense of how long a draft should take. So far, with editing, all bets are off. I can spend an hour on two paragraphs. I can spend days working out some logical issue, and then breeze through a thousand words in an hour once that is solved. I can spend an hour rewriting a single sentence.
I am forever proposing series of posts, with dubious follow-through, but I’m going to start a category on editing. There are many specific things that I am learning that may be useful to others. There’s a lot of stuff out there preaching that one should edit. However, I am always looking for things that explain how to edit–I’m converted to the idea that I should. To get started, check out the Nanoedmo site–it’s got some helpful pointers on editing, and links to more.