Zen and the Art of Editing: Let It Go

I promise, I will try very, very hard to keep the Frozen quotes to a minimum.

One of my biggest editing issues is being too close to the story. I’ve spent large amounts of time, energy, and emotion writing a story, and by the time I’ve written ‘the end’, I’m usually thinking of it as my little word-baby.

As a general rule of thumb, no-one is okay with crossing out and recreating bits of their baby. When was the last time you saw a newborn covered in red pen marks? It doesn’t count if they have older siblings.

I can admit it: at that point, I’m too attached to do what needs to be done. Sometimes I love a character too much to put them through Hell. Sometimes there’s a scene or a line that I absolutely adore, but that doesn’t actually work in the story. Either way, until I can let go of what doesn’t serve the story, my attempting an edit is about as helpful as lying on a train track to check how close the oncoming train is.

So, rather than banging my head against proverbial walls, I print out and bind my manuscript, and promptly dump it down the bottom of my desk drawer for a while. Maybe I start writing a new story, maybe I start editing something else. Maybe I do both. Either way, I get good and absorbed in another project before I even think about editing my latest MS. Focusing elsewhere is the quickest way for me to emotionally disconnect from a draft.

When I’m writing, I’m focusing so much on the story that I get precious about it. But treating a draft like a perfect little baby is the quickest way to destroy any chance of making the story the best it can be.

The truth is, stories are not babies. They’re collections of words and letters designed to be offered up to those around us. It’s my job as a pen-monkey to try and make the stories make sense, and to make people glad they bothered reading at all.

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