Originally posted at SourMeow.tumblr.com.
This past month I found myself participating in a #nanowhat Twitter chat. I have to confess, Twitter chats are not things I’m ordinarily drawn to, but for some reason I found myself saying, eh—what the hey? I got nothin’ better to do while I’m running computer maintenance. May as well check it out.
The topic of that day’s chat was editing, and one of the questions @NaNoWriMo asked was why people avoid editing their novels. There were a number of responses, most of which were along the lines of I’m afraid someone will proof-read it and tell me it sucks. One person even went so far as to say (and I’m gonna paraphrase to protect the innocent) that he was afraid that if he went back and edited his novel he would realize how awful his novel was and that it would destroy his entire concept of himself and render his existence pointless.
Now, if you’ve never written a novel, you might think that’s rather extreme thinking. But for those of you who have had the misfortune — I mean...opportunity of pouring your heart and soul and every thought and realization and epiphany that you’ve had that has contributed to the formation of who you are as an individual into your work—be it storytelling, poetry, art, or any other creative endeavor—then you completely understand that the above tweeter’s phobia is anything but irrational.
Rejection is scary. Rejection of everything you stand for, believe in, fight and advocate for…well…that’s the worst kind of scary, isn’t it?
The thing is, though, that while editing may seem like a mountain of intimidation and something only the most experienced rock climbers can successfully tackle, once you start climbing up that mountain, you realize that it’s only just a little hill—one that leads you into a more beautiful valley than the one you were in before.
See, a couple years ago I wrote this amazeballs novel. It was the awesomest thing ever written—it was clever and witty and poignant and the bestest thing ever! Or it was, until I found a beta reader that, instead of pandering to my ill-begotten notions of perfection, pointed out that the very best parts of my book were actually trash.
Cue several days of sulking in front of the TV as I pondered the meaning of my life and all the bad decisions I had made that led to this moment.
Getting the feedback that I was not expecting was quite a shock to my system—I won’t deny that. But did it shatter my existence? Did I lose my sense of everything I believed in?
I suppose it could have—if I had let it. But after a few days in front of the TV (which is my favorite form of storytelling, by the way [don’t judge me!] ) I realized that the only way I was going to make my novel into a story as worthy as the stories I was binge-watching was to pick myself up, sit down at my computer, and ask my beloved beta reader some follow-up questions on things I could do to make my story better.
It was hard, because it essentially meant that I had to tear down most of my story. And I can understand how, in tearing down your story, it can feel like you’re tearing down yourself. But the thing is, every time you tear something down, you inevitably have to build it back up again—better and stronger than before.
Think of editing as an old building that isn’t up to earthquake code. Do you really want to live in a building that will fall down if the earth so much as shivers? Or do you want to live in a building that can not only stay standing when Atlas shrugs—but also when he has a really bad itch on his back and he’s using the earth as a back-scratcher?
Your story—and your sense of self—are just like that building. Yes, you have to tear it down, but in the process of rebuilding, you’ll find that your story—and your sense of self—are made stronger, clearer, and closer to perfection.
You’ll find that editing—as terrifying and daunting as it may seem—doesn’t actually shatter who you are, what you stand for, or how you perceive yourself.
It makes you focus, sharpen, and refine your sense of self.
And your story.