The Editing Season

Changes in seasons are important matters in our home. First, we’re an area that experiences all our seasons. Summer gets intensely hot. It’s normally over ninety degrees, with recurring jumps over one hundred degrees. Rain is infrequent. Winter isn’t bitterly cold but does prominently feature snow, ice, and temperatures in the night below thirty degrees.

These season changes require shifts. When spring changes to summer, shorts, sandals, and lights shoes and shirts replace boots, gloves, heavy coats, and jeans. A large cleaning project takes place. Bedding is changed. The furnace is switched off, and the air conditioning is inspected and put on standby. Gutters are cleaned, and the house is repaired.

I finished a novel’s first draft a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been editing it.

This type of editing is like a change of season. I’m reading for specific matters, addressing grammar and punctuation as I proceed. It’s not really about copy-editing functions. They’re included because I’m there. This editing is more about continuity, logic, pacing, and consistency.

The process had been going well, until the end of June. Then I crossed into a chapter called “Entrance.”

I’d written “Entrance” early on while writing the novel. It was one of several “genesis chapters” written as I embraced the concept and developed the settings, characters, and story dynamics.

I’m an organic writer, and often feel my way through the story like I’m walking through a dark and unfamiliar room. As I write, illumination grows. I see more of the room until it all comes together. It’s a non-linear process, though; I might write the far right corner for a while, and then the front left corner, and have very little idea about the space between them.

I don’t consider it easy nor difficult as a process. I enjoy the writing process, but the organic writing process sometimes leads to these situations. Something written early in the process no longer aligns with what later develops.

It is not actually a critical matter. It can be a critical matter. I’ve known of writers who are paralyzed when encountering these things. They’re horrified, and even despondent about what they discovered. For one thing, it means the beautiful piece they’ve crafted is flawed. That’s true, but, the flaw’s impact is dependent on its extent. I’ve known many writers who have a difficult time seeing that.

I realized this problem about two thirds of the way through the chapter. Awareness had been growing, and then a new light lit the room. I knew that this did not work, not as written. That meant it needed to be re-written, but I also needed to address that story arc and its continuity, find issues, and resolve them.

The first thing I did was walk away. Essentially, this was like encountering something unexpected during spring cleaning. Say, you’ve pulled out all your shorts, put the first pair on, and discovered they’re too small for you.

For me, I’d want more information. Did the shorts shrink, or did I grow? I’d pursue answers by weighing myself and trying on other shorts. Weighing itself isn’t necessarily helpful. As I’ve aged, I’ve seen my body shape shift. Although I weigh five more pounds than I did ten years ago, my shoulders are smaller and my waist is larger.

Once I’ve gathered more information, I can make decisions and establish a course to follow.

That’s what I did with the novel. Once I walked away and thought about it, I decided on a course of action.

  1. Think.
  2. Drink coffee.
  3. Relax.
  4. Put this into context.
  5. Read that chapter and the others in that arc to assess how much they deviate.
  6. Change as necessary.

To relax, I did other things. I read, watched television and movies, and did tedious chores. I pursued activities that didn’t require significant resources, and yet distracted me. Yet, every day, I opened the document to that chapter and began reading it again.

Relaxing was important, but not as important as putting the situation into context. I fall back on an old idea that’s one of my fundamental approaches to life: it’s better to have a good plan and do something, rather than trying to develop a perfect plan. That doesn’t mean that I don’t seek perfection, but I don’t let the pursuit of perfection paralyze me.

I still had a finished novel. It was still a rough draft. Its concept remained sound. Everything else I’d read and edited so far, several hundred pages into the process, remained enjoyable and promising.

Relaxing helped me understand that I had several courses available.

  1. Rewrite the rest of the novel to synchronize and align with this arc.
  2. Delete that arc and re-write the characters as necessary for the other arcs.
  3. Rewrite this arc and the characters as necessary.

Those were academic exercises. By this point in my writing, I know the stories and arcs, and how it all comes together and ends. I played with those exercises to uncover other potential mines.

Reading the chapter and consulting my notes, memories about decisions made and directions taken returned with time and patience. Reading the subsequent chapters in this arc confirmed my thoughts that, strange as it may sound, this chapter was an anomaly. It was a large anomaly, but just that, and not a precursor to a flawed arc.

I didn’t read that chapter just once completely, but three times, plus multiple partial readings, to develop understanding and insight. When I finished the third reading, I knew what I needed to change, and how. Then I began making changes.

I think a large part of this process is that this isn’t my first novel. Once upon a time, I wrote a novel and thought that first draft was supposed to be publisher-ready. I was naive. Reading that first draft of that first novel was depressing as hell; it was a mess. I learned from the process, and started writing another novel. I put that first novel away, because it was the first, and because I’m an optimistic. Inside myself, I tell myself, maybe I can go back and fix it someday. I do it all because, no matter what else I believe or hope, I believe I’m a writer, and I must write.

I’ve finished fixing that arc. Now I’ve resumed my process from the point where I stopped. One thing I’ve learned about my organic process is, as much as it’s about writing down words and creating a story, it’s about collecting and sifting through the raw material. The second draft is about clarifying and solidifying the vision I found when I wrote the first draft.

Last, I’ve learned that even when there’s a setback to the novel’s completion, there’s progress. Call me a foolish optimist, naive, or pragmatic, but I attempt to learn and I keep going.

Now I have my coffee, and it’s time to do it again, at least one more time. Then, once I finish this draft, which is still probably several weeks in the future, guess what I’ll do?

I’ll do it at least one more time. Then, I’ll turn it over to others, and go from there.

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