Y’know how sometimes you have those days, the ones that make you wanna throw your sneakers through a window and curl up in your closet with a box of ice cream sandwiches? You’ve had them. The ones where you wake up with a pain in your neck, followed by your story ideas and characters not wanting to cooperate with you, and then there’s the fact that you have so much on your mind you’d like to have it surgically removed? Mmmkay, multiply that by fifty and spread it out over an entire month, AND THERE’S MY JANUARY.
Really. I’ve had to fight tooth and nail just to get to the desk every day. But I’m a writer. It’s basically in the contract, right? Sooner or later the horde of demons laying in wait will figure out how to pick the lock on your workspace’s door, and next thing ya know they’ll be feasting upon your brains, deleting documents off your desktop and setting a fire to your notebooks that’ll spread to everything you hold dear. Errrr, or something like that anyway.
You think I’m dealing with just first drafts here? First drafts are paradise compared to editing. Like writing in a journal: drone on and on about how your Cheerios were that morning without batting an eye. Use words like “uhhh” and “whatevs” and “nah.” Use whatever sloppy words you feel like to describe your worst feelings, and throw them at the page like you’re egging your worst enemy’s house. Anything goes in a first draft. Editing? That’s like being handed a roll of paper towels and being told to clean all the half-dried goo you just launched at the siding.
But I’m no stranger to the experience. In fact, I think I might be able to offer some advice.
- Don’t go easy on yourself.
If you’re looking for a career/hobby that means not getting your feelings hurt, well… what can I tell you, except get out while you still can. Because being a writer means being brutally honest with yourself, and having others (namely, beta readers and editors) be brutally honest with you. It means not only having the sort of bravery it takes to stand in front of a mirror and admit you could lose a few, but committing to hopping on a treadmill and laying off the Oreos. Editing isn’t just about figuring out what’s right and what’s wrong about your story, but taking action. And why do the same job two, three times? If you pull punches on your first edit, you’ll have to do it again. And again. And again. Really crack the whip on your first edit-through, and not only will you have less to do on your second one, but you’ll probably have less edit-throughs to do period. Take it from somebody who’s been around the block: don’t make yourself go through ten drafts with a story that should only take three. Don’t go easy on yourself the first time around.
- Print it out.
You’ve probably heard this before, but you see things differently on a computer screen than when you print them out. I’ve found it to be pretty true. Not only does it allow you to catch things you probably wouldn’t have otherwise, printing out your manuscript enables you to edit on the go (it’s something to do on a two-hour car ride, while in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, or even when you’re waiting for a friend to meet you at a restaurant). You might say, “Gee, doesn’t penciling in edits take a lot of focus? Wouldn’t you want to do that, like, not on the go?” Maaaaaaaybe that’s a fair point. Maybe. But, if you’re like me (and many other writers), sometimes life prevents you from getting to the desk. Does that mean you can stop writing? Kind of like saying, “Life got in the way, so I don’t have to go to work.” It might be understandable once or twice if you have a good enough reason, but if you keep it up you’re going to find yourself looking for another job. Let’s all be real with each other here: if you’re serious about writing, you find ways to get it done. Sometimes it means writing a first draft in a notebook. Other times it means taking down scene ideas in the memo app on your phone. In editing, it means printing it out so you can still make notes for yourself even when you’re not at the computer. Real writers say, “One way or another, words are getting written and edits are happening. Maybe I’ll outrun that volcanic lava first, but dammit I’m getting ‘er done.” Which brings me to my next point,
- Treat it like it matters, because it does.
Truth time: if you really care about your writing as much as you say, you don’t give up and you’re not afraid to give it as much effort as it takes. You don’t just write a story one day and then leave it like you’d leave a baby on some stranger’s doorstep. Not that every story will pan out, because sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you do have to give up on them, but only after you’ve given them every benefit of the doubt. But don’t just give up on it at the first sign of struggle, the first time you realize you’ll have to part with a plot point, or that one of your characters needs some serious reworking. You made this thing with your own two hands. It has your thoughts and ideas and concepts sploshed all over it. Yeah, editing is hard, but very worth it. Good gardens take weeding, and good stories take editing. You gave birth to this thing, after all. It deserves to shine.
- Call for some freaking backup.
It takes more than one fireman to hose down an inferno. Mmmkay? A writer is not a one-person army. So don’t underestimate the power of the test reader. Yeah, sharing your story for the first time is no all-you-can-eat sundae bar. Finding test readers who are willing to be honest with you (especially if the only people you can find are family/friends) is difficult too. It’s trial and error, but vital. They’ll see things you didn’t see, notice missing details you may have overlooked, suggest plot twists that’ll turn your story on its head (in a good way), and the best part? Tell you you’re an amazing writer even when you think you’re not. I mean, you wrote a freaking story! That’s something most people couldn’t even imagine putting the blood, sweat and 2AM word sprints into. But one thing that I can’t stress enough is that if you can, try to get at least two people to read your story. The things that they agree on (and disagree on) will be absolutely key in deciding what advice to definitely consider and what advice to take with a grain of salt. Example: if one person notes that your use of the word “mite” is weird, it might be a matter of personal opinion. But if two, or all of them do? Probably time to break out the thesaurus.
- Don’t forget about eating, showering and sleeping. You know, survival things.
With all of these ideas, words and beta reader critiques floating around in your mind, it’s easy to sit at your desk like an oniony hermit and completely detach from reality. Don’t do that. We’d miss you here. So before you put your rocketship in drive and blast off to the planet Zoltar, run yourself a bath. Pour yourself a bowl of cereal. Get comfy on the couch in front of a crackling fire and catch some ZZZs. Don’t make a biohazard team come and fish you out, take care of yourself. If your heart’s in your writing, you’ll always find your way back to it.
Hopefully, these tips have been of help to you. They’re basically the same things I’ve been trying to get through to myself for years. What can I say? This whole taking-care-of-business thang is a learning curve. Yeahhhh.
*elevator music fade out*