Monday, November 22, 2010

Edits – Nightmare or Dare to Dream

Lately I’ve heard from a lot of writers about the dread they feel when having to do edits and revisions on a completed draft.  This always strikes me as odd because I just can’t relate to the stress and dislike they seem to have for the process.  I’m sure every writer approaches this process with a different view at different times, but I must say that even when it’s come down to major revisions I’m always so psyched to go through the entire process.  So I started wondering if that was as unusual as it appears to be.
When I write a story I have to say that I get into the story to quite a degree.  The characters get under my skin, or maybe I should say I get under theirs.  I think about their thoughts and dream about their interactions.  My heart races when theirs does and I’m choked up and writing through a teary haze when they go through emotional scenes.  I ‘feel’ my characters to a great degree.
Because of that I tend to ‘be’ where they are at the place in the story where I last left them (or the place that I’ll find them next.)  Somewhere in the long process of detailing their existence I lose track of all the emotions that brought them to that point.  Details I remember, but the feelings I forget, as I get caught up in their new feelings and attitudes. 
So when the story is wrapped up and the time to finally embark on that first read-through comes, I’m excited to say the least.  I love discovering the characters anew.  I love being reminded of the little choices that led them where they now are.  I feel very much like someone pulling out old love notes and reminiscing by themselves about the flood of emotions that came with those days so long past.
Sometimes, as I’m doing my editing I’ll get lost in a scene, discovering it like a first time reader and forgetting to look for editing points.  I have to go back and start over.  In fact I usually have read and re-read it dozens of times before a reader even sees it (except for a few who won’t let me do that and are riding me to finish so they can find out more – they get warning notes about typos on their copies.)
I laugh, I cry.  I feel like someone has come into my dreams and watched the movie that’s been playing in my head for months, writing it all down for me to remember.  I fall in love all over, every time.  Then I remember that someone didn’t write this down from my head, I wrote this down.  This is a new story that just came to life in my dreams, and there it is, preserved for anyone who wants to see it and experience it with me.
Wait this is mine?  My book?  A whole story, by me?  And I love this story!
That is the cool and amazing feeling of writing a book.  I can’t believe I did it once.  I can’t believe I’ve done it multiple times and I’m doing it right now.  I can’t believe that I was even capable of doing this.  I met a story in my dreams.  I fell in love with that story.  I found a way to keep that story forever, and share that story, and treasure it.
That is the truth about writing a book, published or not.  There lives and breathes a little piece of my dreams that can be relived over and over.  How many people have a great dream and wake up from it, longing for a way to go back and experience it again?  I get to do that.  I get to share the details of the way the forest smelled.  I get to remember with clarity the crushing of her heart when she lost him.  I get to know the feeling of that first kiss, over and over.  I captured a dream!  I can barely believe it’s possible to do, let alone believe that I was capable of doing it!
When I get that first chance to go through and edit a newly completed book, I’m overwhelmed with the prospect.  I get to revisit my dream.  How amazingly blessed am I that I have been given the desire to do this?  How amazingly blessed am I to be able to share what I have dreamed with others?  How cool is it to be able to call yourself a writer, merely because you are driven to write and dream and hope?
That’s when I really understand the whole point of what I do.  It’s not about the agents, or the publishers.  It’s not about the genre that’s currently trending or how many rejections I get.  It’s not about ‘the call’ that I’m waiting for.  Sometimes it feels overwhelmingly like those things are everything, but they’re not.  They’re the reaction, not the cause.  They’re the things that I will work through so that hopefully I can share this dream with the world, or the next one, or the one after that.
But this dream, captured on paper (or flash drive, or hard drive), is the real reason.  I edit to perfect the telling of the dream.  I revise to make sure that whomever reads about my dream will understand with complete clarity every nuance of emotion that went into its original showing (the one in my head).  I relish the edits and re-writing, and I especially relish the read-through.  I get to become lost in the words and forget they’re mine.  I get to fall in love all over and find new reason to make a bold attempt to share this love with all the readers out there who just might be ready to fall in love with it too.
So to make a short answer long, that is why I love edits and revisions.
But I’m curious, is that an odd feeling to have as a writer, or have you felt it too?
Are edits your nemesis, or your wonderful revelation?  Do they bring you down, or bring meaning back into your writing journey?


alexia said...

I love your take on editing! I also love reading through some parts of my book and experiencing the story again. Other parts though, not so much. I think it's because my first drafts are very rough in places, so when I reread and have to edit those spots later, it's not so much fun. That's just my process. However, at the moment I am going through a major edit/rewrite of some parts of my book, and I am really loving it. So, it all depends.

Melissa Crytzer Fry said...

I love your enthusiasm and don't think you're alone. A lot of writers live for the revision/edit stage. I'm not one of them. But that's because I am a "polish as I go" writer. I write, rewrite and tweak every sentence and chapter as I go. There are a lot of recommendations against writing this way, but I can't break myself of the habit. I do the same thing in my professional writing business - with magazine articles, brochures, websites. You name it.

So for me, "rewriting" is like saying "Now that you've labored over every sentence, every scene, every plot twist 1000xs, let's do it again." It's a bit overwhelming. But in the end, I will edit as much as I have to if it means a better product.

But your message is well-taken: that the HONOR and PRIVILEGE of writing is what's most important!

Julie Geistfeld said...

Alexia and Melissa,
Thanks so much for your views on editing. It's fun to hear about the processes other writers use.
I never thought of it like that Melissa, but I can see how going through and editing can turn into the equivalent to writing it all over again and that must be hard to tackle sometimes. But on the upside I bet your first draft is more polished than average.