Before the edit starts

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When you start out writing it’s easy to look at authors with two, three, four or more books under their belt and believe they somehow have it easier than you, or that your struggles mean you aren’t meant to be a writer. This is very far from the truth.

I’m writing this as the first draft of my third book, Genesis Redux, merrily prints away beside me. I say merrily, but in some respects it’s feels like the creak of a trapdoor beneath your feet while you have a noose wrapped around your neck. My first draft has been resting for over six weeks now and it’s time to get back to work. However, to show you that all writers have doubts and apprehensions, I want to capture the what’s going through my head now, knowing that I have months of editing ahead of me.

Confronting fear

Above all is the fear. It’s the fear of reading my first draft and realising it’s irredeemable. Note I didn’t say terrible. Terrible can be dealt with, in fact I’ve dealt with terrible at this stage in the process twice before. First drafts are meant to be mostly terrible but with enough encouraging signs that there’s a good story in there somewhere. What I’m scared about is that the first draft is so bad, so teeth-clinchingly, sickness-inducingly bad, that there is no way it can be recovered and I’ll have to start the whole thing all over again. This fear is so strong my stomach just flipped as I wrote that sentence. That’s how much I fear what I’m about to read.

I’ve been told this feeling never changes, no matter how many books you’ve written.

Pressure of expectation

Then there’s the pressure of expectation. The nicest part of writing your first novel is that you are the sole source of expectation. That level of expectation can still crush some, but for most of us the challenge is to get to the finish line, to have written a book, and then to see if anyone else will enjoy it afterwards. This is the third book of a trilogy. I’ve been lucky enough to have received glowing reviews for both books but this doesn’t make the writing process easier. It makes it harder. Because what if it’s rubbish? What if I’ve lost whatever it was that people enjoyed so much in the first two books? What if I screw the ending up? Not only do I have to bring this book to a satisfying conclusion, I have to conclude the whole series as well. What if I…

No. I have to stop thinking about it otherwise I’ll never go any further.

Overcoming laziness

I always look on in awe at those committed individuals. You know the ones I mean, those who seem to thrive on pressure, who produce and produce and produce as if they’re in a competition with the rules of physics on how much one can achieve in a set period of time. I’m not like that. I work hard, but inside there is a very lazy person just waiting to break out, and it’s at times like these, just at the brink of committing to something huge, that my inner lazy man speaks the loudest. “Why bother? Two’s a good effort, much better than some. Nobody will hold it against you. Forget about it…”

Time pressure

On top of the above is the knowledge of the sheer amount of time this will take, time I’m struggling to make available. Like all writers, I too have a life outside of writing. I have a job, and if that wasn’t enough I’m also the chair of our local preschool. I have friends (stop snickering at the back) and most importantly, I have a wonderful wife and a young family who fully deserve my time. I’ve written before how writing is a selfish act, but it’s at this point in a project this really hits home.

The tyranny of deadlines

Finally, I have that other form of time pressure looming up ahead of me, the deadline. I’m n indie author so I don’t have a publisher breathing down my neck waiting for the finished book, but I do have my own expectations as to when the book should be ready to go. My first book took 18 months tow write. My second book took just over ten months. This time I’d like to do the same, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

And then there is the pressure from my readers, who expect the book to be available in September BECAUSE I TOLD THEM IT WOULD BE. The things we do to ourselves.

Of course, none of these feelings will stop me from editing, which is the madness behind being a writer. There is a story inside me and it needs to be told. I’ve already committed months of my time to get this far, what’s a few more months to finish it off? Plus there’s always the next one to think about…

What about you? Does any of this ring true? I’d love to hear from you.

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54 thoughts on “Before the edit starts

  1. wait – you feel that when you edit? I feel that now two thirds of the way through. Because the god damn characters keep changing subplots and shit, so now I have to go back and re write tens of thousands of words. let alone the chunky editing of the rest of it – and I know that NOW – now before I even finish the ruddy thing. I read chapter one, and threw it away – completely re wrote it – WHAT IF I HAVE TO DO THAT TO ALL THE CHAPTERSSSSSSSSS. how can I re write the whole thing? oh god, what if I have to re write the whole thing? I know I need a HEAVY re write of at least 50K of it… Should I just stop? I should just stop right? before I drive myself insane? Its rubbish anyway. I can’t do this, why did I even think I could write a book. Basically I’ve written drivel. owh. but I love the story, maybe I should carry on. No. Yes. No. Im annoying myself, and now I am annoying you by leaving this stream of consciousness on your page!

    p.s. what photos do I need for Friday?

    • Yep, I feel that way, and then I’ll start and I’ll feel brilliant, then terrible, then invincible, then who knows what. The only thing that stays constant is that it’s a rollercoaster ride.

    • Hi, I never started writing a fiction or something creative. I do write real-life stories. I think, I need to learn how to write creatively too. I never started writing a book this year, 2015. Why? Because I’m busy tweaking the published ones. Good advice from the poster. I think I will have to spend more time writing and editing before publishing.

    • Before I started writing, I had no idea how annoying characters could be, I mean, we’re supposed to be in charge, right? But once in a while, they can be helpful too…

  2. The fear and paranoia definitely rings true. I would think you’re an ‘old hand’ at this writing game by now, Dylan, as what you produce is so tight, well imagined – and well written. But I understand your fear of reading through and judging your own work to be *irredeemable*. For what it’s worth, we who read you and enjoy your stories don’t share your fear. All will be well.

    • No, I’m just a baby compared to some and even those writers suffer from the same, so I’ve been told.
      Thanks for your kind words, I’ll add them to the ‘pressure of expectation’ category… 😉

  3. All so familiar. I feel like I’m getting used to some of the pressure and anxiety, or more likely, I just don’t have time for it – which creates pressure and anxiety! Yeesh. Lately, life has been go, go, go. I multi-task like a lunatic, just to carve out the focused solitude I need to write. Those hours pass in the blink of an eye. It’s an affliction that it seems we all struggle with.

  4. I’m almost done with the final edits for my second novel and this all rings true to me. Especially the part about the time crunch. Like you, I have no publisher breathing down my neck, but I have my own expectations. I have a family, and a photography studio (with my husband) and at times the time balance is truly difficult. Best wishes as you go forward with your editing!

  5. Yes editing can be a glorious thing, where you’re just ready to shred it to bits and in the words of Rizzle kicks ‘get to the good bit’, or it can be hopeless, and tiresome…But it’s part of the process right?

    • It is part of the process, and editing is my favourite part of writing a novel. It’s just my little wobble before starting, those feelings of nerves as your legs dangle outside the aircraft before you finally jump…

  6. I’m a first time novelist and I started by writing for myself. I figured that if I wrote something that was no good, nobody would ever see it. But then the writing took hold and the book grew…and grew, until I realised I had a trilogy. I finished my first draft thinking the hard work was done but now all the books needed aligning for continuity and I’ve finally read a lot on how you’re supposed to write a book. It feels like I’m starting again! Some days I think it’s looking quite good, but other days I despair at how far from complete it is. The pressure has grown because I’ve told people it will be published…Book 1 by the end of this year…but it’s looking like a pipe dream at the moment. At least it’s not just me. Thanks for the post!

    • All new writers think writing the first draft is the hard part, but it’s just the start of a long – but enjoyable – process. All you can do is keep chipping away and it will be ready when it’s ready. It is good to have a self-imposed deadline to focus your attention, though, otherwise you can find yourself drifting along for months without achieving anything.

  7. Discouraged. Frustrated. One published book in 2013 that’s barely sold 1000 copies (with marketing expenses greater than $1200.00). Two finished novels I am dissatisfied with. Four projects in the works, none of which I seem to be able to commit to. In the dip. Death in the family (father). Grandbaby due any day. Family responsibilities. Argh! Not exactly exuding confidence, am I?

    • It can be tough, and I’m very sorry for your loss. Losing somebody close can take time to come to terms with and while you do the world often appears muted.
      I may be a bit early with this but let me offer some perspective on what else you’ve said. While 1000 books sold isn’t going to put you on the NYT Bestseller list, there are authors who would bite your hand off for those sales. Yes, you’ve paid a lot for advertising but any new business (and writing is a business) reinvests any money they make back into the business. For only one book published, 1000 sales is a great start.
      And you have a grand baby on the way. How wonderful is that? If anything can help bring some sunshine back into your life it’s the unconditional love of a child.
      If you’re anything like me you probably know what to do to get yourself back on track but either aren’t ready or won’t admit it to yourself. All I can say is don’t give up. You’ve 1000 readers out there waiting for your next book. They have confidence in you even if you don’t at the moment.

  8. Great post! Sometimes I feel like I write too slow, it’s hard not to get caught up with other authors. But it isn’t long before my characters take over and I get back in the zone 🙂

    • It is hard not to get caught up, but at the same time, how other authors work is irrelevant. You have your process and that’s the best one for you. It is good when you’re in the zone, though… 😉

  9. There are so many fears that come with writing. Will anyone like it? Will I get bad reviews? One of my fears is that I won’t finish my manuscript. I’ve published 7 books, but I have a few that are incomplete. I know that sometimes you get stuck in the middle, and usually you find a way to pick up where you left off eventually, but not always. I hate the idea of wasting weeks or months on something I might never finish. Then there’s the fear of running out of ideas. When it’s been a while since I’ve written, I sometimes fear that I’ve run out of things to write about.

    It’s so easy to compare yourself with people who seem to be publishing three books a year. They seem so productive and self-disciplined, but that isn’t always the case. I published four books last year, but all of them were written in previous years. I sometimes went for weeks or months without writing a single word. From the outside looking in, I probably seem like one of those productive authors, but I assure you that’s not the case.

    All we can do is work at our own pace and produce our best work. The fears will always be there, but we can overcome them.

    • This is the point I’ve tried to get across. It doesn’t matter where you are in the writing business, there will always be somebody you look up to and are envious of – whether that’s through their productivity, the beauty of their prose – and this is normal. We all have our ups and downs, it doesn’t make you any less of a writer. In fact, I’d say the best writers are those with the insecurities, as they are always challenging themselves to improve.

      • I don’t know if that’s true. I think at a certain point you’ll be pleased with your success and focus on your work and not so much what other folks are doing. At least, that’s been my experience. Right now, I’m pretty pleased with where I am professionally, but a couple of years ago, I was absolutely eaten up with envy/ jealousy whenever I saw classmates post about promotions, etc. on FB (and who knows? A year from now I may be back at that point where I’m weeping over FB again).

        But I agree that the fears and insecurities are always there, just not the jealousy and envy.

      • I can only speak for myself on this, but when I hear of an author’s success, I’m both pleased for them and slightly envious of them. I’m not eaten up by jealousy, and it doesn’t put me in a black mood, but there’s a slight twinge of ‘if only’ along with the happiness for them.

  10. Great post, Dylan. All of these ring true for me, though my main problem is being too hard on my past self. I tend to see improvements everywhere, and it stymies my productivity. I’m now putting myself in the shoes of somebody other than myself when I edit: would I be this critical with somebody else’s manuscript? Likely not.

    This has been the best self-advice I’ve ever gotten.

    • I read a great article by Kameron Hurley where she mentioned doing a book reading and something she said stuck in my mind. “I read a passage from my book, all the while editing it in my head.” This was a published book, the finished article, and she still felt the need to edit it. You are not alone. I tend to stop editing when what I’m doing is changing things, rather than improving them.

  11. As I sit and ponder your question, I am forced to admit that, for me, every part of the process – from storyboarding the ideas, through writing, endless rewriting, editing, proofreading, formatting, promoting – has it’s own gruelling, terrifying moments. Just switching over that many hats is mind-boggling. My third novel is poised on the edge of publication and while this stage is generally euphoric – after all, I’ve come so far – it is also filled with anxiety. What if no one buys it? What if it gets bad reviews? And on it goes. All I can say is that the highs are so high they make the lows bearable.

    • This is very true, especially about having to change hats at each stage of the process – each leading to moments of anxiety. All the very best for your upcoming publication!

  12. This all sounds so familiar, making me think that although writers are all very different, writing very differnet stuff, I think we are all pretty similar on the business end of the pencil. And although we moan and groan (in my case, a lot) we wouldn’t really have it any other way!

  13. My tip for imposing deadlines is ‘be vague.’ My novel (currently two thirds of the way through the third draft) is due out late summer. Now that could be end of September or July 2016! It’ll be done when it’s done.

    My only worry is that 12-18 months of work will simply disappear into the self-publishing ocean never to be seen again.

    Chris

    • I used to work for a large corporation and I hated seeing deadlines of Quarter 1, or 2nd half of the year. Those aren’t deadlines, those are seasons! Now it’s all down to me, I’m tempted to do the same…

  14. What a great post, Dylan. What I love about being involved in the blogging world is learning so much from others. You reiterate what so many others write — that writing never gets any easier. The self-doubt is always there, and every step of the process has its own set of worries. A question for you, and I wonder if it’s a matter of word choice: where does revision fit into your process? Revision, in my mind, is what occurs early on: when story structure of an early draft is examined, what works and what doesn’t work is evaluated, and massive rewrites are undertaken that may result in a draft that looks quite different from the previous. Edits, in my mind, are more minor. Tweaks, if you will. Do you differentiate between the two?

  15. Time Pressure is a big one. I fill up my mornings with my current re-write, go to bed thinking about it, hoping I can get up early enough to get a decent amount of time on it before my 2 year old gets up. I stay home with him, so when he starts I start. I try to even work during his naps to get in just a few extra minutes. It gets a bit daunting at times. Kind of want to just walk away, because I feel like it takes up so much of my time. I can’t though. Something always pulls me back to the written word. Good luck with your editing. Hope it goes well.

  16. It all rings so true, Dylan!

    You know what it reminds me of? Stage fright. I used to act and I could never make it onto the stage without going into a cold sweat and being sure I’d forgotten every line I’d learned. I wished there would come a time when it would go away until a few great people told me that if you ever lose that fear, it’s all over and you may as well stop. Then I wrote some short drama sketches for my church team and, guess what? It was WORSE! Now I was no longer afraid of forgetting the lines – I was terrified nobody would LIKE the lines!

    Your own words are shining their flashlights on you and here comes the paralyzed ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ routine.
    Three… two… one… roll cameras!
    You’re playing YOU now.

  17. I’ve got a launch date of September too! and Yes, working on my first draft too and yes, it looks like I spewed words over the page. It’s a bank holiday coming up here so I’m hoping to get major changes sorted out this weekend so at least it doesn’t seem so insurmountable every time I glance at it!
    Good luck!

  18. OK, here’s the issue I have with self-editing: I got to the point where I was rewriting and at the end of rewriting a scene I wasn’t sure if it was better than the original scene or just different from the original scene.

    I think I have a pretty good handle on copy-editing, proofing and content editing: I can identify and correct errors, but beyond that, when there’s really nothing wrong with a paragraph, but still I find myself wanting to rewrite it, I can’t seem to put down the red pen and just stop. This is why I gave up trying to edit my MS and moved on to a new project.

    I guess that’s where a deadline would come in handy because that point is reached by default, when the clock strikes midnight.

    • If I get to the point where I feel I’m just changing things, rather than improving things, and I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with the paragraph or scene, I stop. If I think it’s not right but I don’t know how to fix it, I tend to ask for another’s opinion.

  19. Pingback: Friday Finds: Week 31 | Avid Reader
  20. Fantastic post as always, Dylan! Since I haven’t tried to write a novel yet, I can only imagine some of these, but I do relate to time pressure. When I decided to participate in the April A to Z Blogging Challenge, I worried that I was writing at the expense of family time. In my case, however, my son was cheering me on, reading all of my posts, and providing creative suggestions. Unfortunately it’s not something you can really do with your novels!

    Now that the challenge is over, I’m looking forward to catching up on my TBR list…including Absent Souls! 🙂

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