Today I woke up with a lot of determination to push forward on editing my novel. I was fantasizing about sending my manuscript to a publisher, creating cover art, turning my series into a trio of Hollywood Blockbuster movies, appearing on morning talk shows, translating my books into Spanish and German and Mandarin, choosing a voice actor for the audiobook…then I remembered I’m not even halfway through editing my first draft. Serious reality check.
Still, I got to work, determined to get a little closer to making my dreams a reality. But I quickly became frustrated with how far I have to go. My novel needs so many edits! Will it ever be good enough?
You see, there is one thing standing between the current version of myself – 1.5 drafts in full of hope, fear, determination, confusion, ideas, courage, yearning, and doubt – and the dream version of myself – Successful author, happy and fulfilled, sharing my secrets of success to all of my adoring fans……..and that thing is the EDITING SPIRAL.
No not that! Anything but that!
Alright, maybe you don’t usually have that strong of a reaction to editing, but you should. Editing is what will keep you from becoming the author you’ve always dreamed of being. This is not because you can’t edit, or are too lazy to edit or don’t edit well. It is the exact opposite. The editing spiral traps so many authors in its deathly slew of doubts and revisions because we don’t know when to stop. And sometimes we get sucked in so deep that we literally can’t pull ourselves out.
It’s easy for us writers to fall into the never ending editing spiral of doom because we love our stories, and we want them to be perfect. So, like an overprotective mother bear we hide our manuscripts from the world, telling ourselves it just isn’t ready yet, I need to work on my sentence structure, character development, plot twists, you name it. Then before we know it we are on the 22nd draft ten years later and we’ve become sick of our story, the more we fuss with it the more we hate it so we eventually set it aside, and try moving onto a new book where we fall into the same cycle and then suddenly we are 85 years old with half a dozen manuscripts and have never realized our dreams.
I know, I sound a little doomsday – I am only in my second draft after all – but this is real. Editing exposes me to all of my writers insecurities on a daily basis. My sentences feel forced, the characters are one note, I leave out important details, my word choice is uncreative, hey look at that a new story idea that sounds easier than slogging through this mess.
I want my writing to be perfect, so I get carried away trying to fix everything, or I give up and move onto a new story. Striving for perfection is overwhelming, makes me question if I will ever finish, if my story will ever be worthy.
I have a crazy newsflash for myself and all you other authors out there. Your writing does not need to be perfect in order to publish your book. It doesn’t even need to be great. It doesn’t even have to be GOOD! It only needs these three things
- To Make Sense
- To be complete
- To have something special
Your Story Needs to Make Sense: On both the macro and micro level if you want to publish your novel it needs to make sense. You can’t start out with a book about zombie mermaids taking over the planet and then suddenly switch to a poem about scratchy cat kisses (unless you can find a logical way to connect the two, please feel free to prove me wrong). You also can’t have a story with gaping plot holes, disappearing characters, out of order events or distorted passages of time. This can be stupid hard to accomplish. I know halfway through my second draft, my story still probably wouldn’t make sense to a reader who hasn’t been debriefed on what to expect. Though obvious, this is one of the hardest parts of storytelling, but a necessary goal, and something that should be a priority from the start.
Your Story Needs to Be Complete: Yes, you know all stories have a beginning middle and end. You learned this in preschool, that’s not what I mean (though please make sure your story does have these three things). Only you know all of the elements you want to put into your story. Maybe there’s a thread of symbolism you want to tie throughout the whole thing, maybe you need to include foreshadowing of events from your second book. You can’t be done until those have been added to the manuscript. Sometimes having a complete story can also involve having all the scenes written. Do you have an awkward time gap that you know needs an additional scene? Do you need a conclusion? A fight scene? A character that you can kill off in chapter 7? There is a fine line between including all of your desired elements into your story, and getting so caught up in making your book complex and interesting that your story becomes too cluttered. Always keep that balance in mind and always seek to complete your stories when editing, hold off on the embellishments to add later on if needed. Or, as Kayla would put it “Get the meat in the stew before the herbs”
Your Story Needs to have Something Special: You are not a perfect person, and therefore you are not going to write your story perfectly. Instead you will write it adequately. Sometimes, book readers get a little too demanding of us authors and they get irritated when we reveal that we are humans and have a story element that isn’t as strong as it could be. Maybe you struggle with developing complex characters, maybe you didn’t pace your story correctly, maybe your plot is a little cliche, or your prose are less than eloquent. That’s ok! Readers will keep reading your story because you have a secret weapon up your sleeve. Just as all of us have different writing weaknesses, we all have some writing strengths too, and those are how we are going to grab our readers, lock them in their bedrooms and not let them leave until they have finished reading every book we have ever written. All you need is one strong, and interesting story element to keep the reader moving forward. So your characters are one dimensional? Who cares, because your plot is so fast paced and exciting, the reader doesn’t have time to notice the problems with the characters, let alone consider putting the book down, because they HAVE to know what happens next. Or maybe your prose is a little boring- a little elementary sounding – but you pace your novel perfectly, and the reader finds themselves propelled onward without noticing you started five sentences in one paragraph with the word “She” and use adverbs like sprinkles on a donut. Rather than wallowing in your weaknesses focus on highlighting your strengths and your readers will do the same.
Now, I am not saying that editing is unimportant – Editing is THE MOST important part of story writing. Rather, I am telling you that editing can go on forever, so you need to have a cut off. Don’t waste your time seeking to perfect your story, hiding it from the people who would love it the way it is. Get your story to the point of good enough, and then do something really scary. Let others read it. They will help you close the editing gap, and will help push you over the final hurdle to publishing.
You know what your story needs, perhaps it will need 37 drafts just to get to a point where it has my three essential elements – that’s ok. Perhaps in three drafts and six months you are able to get a story beyond these basics – that’s ok too! But if you are like me, and are feeling discouraged and depressed about the long arduous process of editing, then take heart, because we are so close. Though we would love for our stories to be perfect, they don’t need to be. Even in a flawed state they can be shared with and loved by many. So go forth young author, take courage and strength from the fact that you can finish your novel, that it’s ok if some parts of your writing suck and that you will achieve your writing dreams!
Stay amazing my friends!