Dirt, and Growing Things

Oh, I have been a bad, bad bloggerina. I am aware of this. Self-flagellation starts…now.

I can only blame my lack of regular writing on the cock-eyed monster I call editing. Editing is like…cleaning the house, or weeding the garden, or trimming your hair regularly. That is, absolutely necessary, but hardly an enjoyable task. As a writer, you have to make time for sweeping the dust out of the corners of your plot, pulling out the weeds of stale dialogue and sloppy description, and snipping off those scraggly loose ends that make the rest of a healthy story look like poop.

But editing can be stifling and discouraging. No one writes a sparkling first draft, but coming back to a manuscript or a story after a few months of working on other things can be stupefying and upsetting.

“I wrote THAT?” you say, staring in horror at the jumbled mass of mixed metaphors and stilted dialogue. “What on earth am I going to do? I should just start over.”

Snoopy feels my pain. Image belongs to C. Schulz

But you don’t start over. You polish those rough edges, and dig out the gems hiding in the dirt, and cut out the useless characters until finally, the whole things gleams. And then you do it all again. And again. And it’s exhausting.

And unfortunately, I am not a great multi-tasker. Which means, when it comes to editing, I am solely focused on editing, and I get no writing done whatsoever. Which is fine, until I’m done editing, and I haven’t actually written anything in what feels like months. Well, one might think I could just start writing again. Do I do that? No. Instead, I stare at a blank screen for hours until I inevitably get distracted with cute cat videos or learning Italian or deciding that today is the day I want to learn how to make quiche.

Can you blame me? Quiche is delicious. Image via theage.com.au

In one of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s brilliant books, The Angel’s Game, the protagonist pumps out pulpy gothic romances under a pseudonym while struggling to complete his own novel. When asked by his protégée where he finds inspiration, David says, “Inspiration comes when you stick your elbows on the table and your bottom on the chair and start sweating. Choose a theme, an idea, and squeeze your brain until it hurts. That’s called inspiration.”

I find the idea of inspiration as nothing more than hard work unsettling. On an emotional level, I feel like inspiration should be there when I wake up in the morning! When I brush my teeth at night! How can I write without inspiration? But on an intellectual level, I realize that inspiration is often just doing it. Squeezing that brain and sweating until something clicks.

Oscar Wilde once said, “Every flower must grow through dirt.” (Oscar Wilde didn’t say that. I can’t remember who did.) Thomas Edison said that “genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” Yoda said “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

How does your editing process affect your writing? How do you make your flower grow through the dirt? Do you wait for inspiration, or do you squeeze your brain until it hurts? Let me know in the comments!

2 Comments

  1. Emmie Mears
    Reply

    I am right there with you. I just decided to stop querying for a little bit and go back and do some more editing when I looked at my first chapter and got very bored. If that’s the first thing agents are going to see, it needs to not have any info dump places. And I need to make sure my antagonist is introduced in the first fifty pages. Back to the drawing board. Sigh.

  2. Kourtney Heintz
    Reply

    LOL. I no longer call it editing. I call it “Re-vision” after attending Cheryl Klein’s workshop. What makes editing fun is taking the time to question what the purpose of each scene is and what is fun to read and what isn’t. Some scenes you scrap, some you retool. I had to redo my query and my synopsis after each round of revision. ;P

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