Have I already mentioned how much I despise the editing phase of writing a book?
Really? I have?
Okay, I won’t go into a ten-thousand-word exposition on all the things I find frustrating—which would, most likely, result in most of you hitting that “unsubscribe” button.
And to be fair, it’s not every part of editing . . . It’s just really the first draft . . . and every subsequent second after I send the manuscript off to my editor, Christopher.
Why is this, you might ask?
Well, after completing the first draft, I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I just wrote a book for heaven’s sake. A masterpiece of thought, imagination, and prose. I am in an elite class of artists.
And then I read it . . .
Wait a minute. Did I actually write this incomprehensible piece of rubbish? Suddenly I’m not feeling like an artist at all—I’m nothing more than a wannabe, a hack, a charlatan, a . . . a . . . see, if I were a real writer, I would have thought of a fourth ingenious descriptor there.
So I do the only sensible thing open to me and search the internet for what other authors feel like after writing their first draft, and guess what I find? I’m not alone. Apparently this is a common occurrence, and that makes me feel slightly better. I close the browser, open up Scrivener, take a couple of deep breaths, and start back at chapter one.
Fast forward four revisions and two read-throughs later, and I am staring at what I would consider a Manuscript that is 99% complete. The next step would be to send it off to my editor, but I hesitate. Did I check everything? Are the names consistent? Did I catch every homonym? Every plural and possessive? Does the plot really make sense?
I am again racked with self-doubt. I don’t want to waste my editors time. I don’t want him to think less of me. The only sensible thing is to go through it a couple of more times performing searches for frequent errors.
Weeks pass, and before I know it, my April deadline has come and gone. It’s June 1st, and I still haven’t sent Christopher anything. I’m still hesitating—still wanting to go through the manuscript just one more time.
I have to believe this is also a common occurrence too. Ultimately, it’s all about the fragile, house-of-cards, ego of an author that’s to blame. When you do anything creative, be it art, music, writing, etc. you put yourself out there for the world to love or criticize. So much of who you are can be tied up in your work, that its reception directly links to your feelings of self-worth.
Don’t get me wrong—this isn’t a unique feeling to artist types—you see this all the time at the workplace. But the biggest difference I see between the two is the length of time and individual effort spent as an independent artist, is vastly greater than that of a collaborative work environment. For instance, when I worked at IBM and Lenovo, I was always a part of a team, working on several projects at once. If one of those work-streams was less than satisfactory, you could still hang your hat on the others. But when you work on one project, for a year or years, independently, It’s all on you. Success or failure falls wholly upon your slumping, delicate, shoulders.
It’s these times in the creative process, when those very insecurities, are exposed. After the first draft, you are the principal critic of your work, and hopefully, you are indeed critical. I don’t think you are doing yourself, or your audience, any favors by believing what you write is the best thing ever.
The next critiquing hurdle—at least for me—is when you submit the manuscript to your editor. This is the first time an outside expert is assessing your writing, and that can be extremely nerve-racking.
I think the most challenging aspect of writing a book is not taking feedback personally, but using it as a building block to becoming better at your craft.
This, of course, is easier said than done.
Some suggestions I have found that have been somewhat helpful for me are:
1) Write something else: a blog, an outline of a new book, a short story, anything, before reading your first draft. I believe this helps me because I’m not solely focused on the story I just wrote as being the only creative thing in my life.
2) Keep reminding yourself that each time you write anything; you are getting better at your craft. I’ve heard the figure of one million words before you become completely competent as a writer. I’m not sure if there is any scientific justification for that number, but I like to keep it in mind as a target none-the-less.
3) It’s important to have the right tools to assist you as you proceed. Currently, I rely on several applications to improve upon my writing; Grammarly, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and a combination of Scrivener and Word. The process I use is a mix of dictation and keyboarding the story into Scrivener, then I bring each chapter into Grammarly, and finally pull it all together in Word to send off to my editor. This process helps me not only head off some recurring errors I make but also helps me identify a surprising amount of elements I’ve missed during editing.
So, if you’re like me and feeling unsure of yourself during these parts of editing, or just wondering what the heck has taken me so long to get to this point, I hope this post helps.
Ultimately, my goal is to write the most entertaining book I can. But I sure do hope Christopher gets back to me soon, because every second that passes is absolute mental torture.