I realize the weird humor of complaining to an editor about the difficult process of editing, but there you go. I’m really having just one big, good time editing the novel I’ve written. Editing has really been, so far, harder for me to do than the long and (largely) pleasurable process of writing was in the first place. Well, that may not be true. I‘m not sure anymore. I may be so frustrated right now that I can’t remember, but still, right now, that’s what it feels like from where I’m sitting, curled up in a big chair, sulking, with sheets of novel and notes all around me, in a frazzled state of mind, and wishing it was late enough in the day to pour myself a generous glass of wine.
The first problem has been that my writing got stronger as I wrote my way through the novel, so that I now find myself needing to rework beginning chapters. I tried the cut and paste approach, but the voice was too blotchy and wasn’t very strong when I tried patchwork, so I ended up reworking the first several chapters.
Then, I realized the underlying themes of the book had changed and developed throughout the time I was writing, so I reread with that in mind. Then I tried different things with language usage, and changed things back and forth, and back again.
And I may have set myself up for some frustration without knowing I was doing it, because, as I was writing, I’d kept a notebook (which grew into two and then some) and I wrote down scenes and sections of thoughts and other things I wanted to include, and I’m now working on including the sections I hadn’t already worked in, which is much more difficult to do, if it’s going to be done well, than I ever imagined.
Anyway, I could use some advice on how to organize myself, and I’d like to know, for peace of mind, if this kind of editing on a first novel passes for anything like normal. Maybe then I won’t feel like I’m going nuts, and worrying that I’ll never know when I’m finished.
1. First of all, if you spent the whole weekend Christmas shopping and failed to come up with the perfect gift, Evil Editor's books are always appreciated and often cherished. Visit EvilEditor.net. What? Oh, right, that wasn't the question. That was a question?
2. You're finished when your book is in print. Even after you get it so good it sells, your editor will probably want you to change some things, and then after your editor thinks it's perfect you'll get to read the proofs where you'll spot a few typos and a glaring error in continuity. You'll be highly annoyed if you find something you want to change after it's published.
3. There's no right way to write a novel, but when you start your next novel you might want to try reading (and editing) the four chapters that precede the one you're working on before you start working every day. Many people write the novel straight through and then edit, but you sound like you might be better off going over each completed part many times as you go. It takes longer, but it's in better shape when you finish, which reduces the sense of panic that sets in when you realize that your first draft is a first draft.
4. It's not unusual to go through what you're going through. After you've sold three books and they've been successful bestsellers, and you're working on your fourth book, guess what? You'll still go through it.
5. It's never too early for wine. I pour it on my breakfast cereal instead of milk. Just remember, red with Wheaties, white with Rice Chex, rosé with Cheerios.