Why does Editing feel like Self-Harming?

“You can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter.”

When I say self-harming, I don’t mean I end up with physical injury after a long editing session, but I definitely feel a bit bruised. I wonder if any writer actually enjoys any part of the editing process apart from the end of it. So far, it’s the only part of this new life that feels like work.

The first draft is this beautiful, bohemian exercise where one can express themselves and throw caution to the wind. An author can get lost in a different world that they’ve created, and only they have permission to view it. It’s safe and comfortable, and you’re in control. But then…

Then you have to fly over the top of your new world and you realise that the trees aren’t quite as tall as you thought they were, and the house in the centre of the village looks more like a board of wood, and the wizard looks more like Paul Daniels than Gandalf. The illusion is ruined, and you then have to keep taking that plane up, every day, and landing in the village square with some bricks and cement.

It’s hardly surprising that this is the dry bit. I’m sure that this part of the process is what’s known as ‘the graft’, if the first bit is known as ‘the craft’. Like I said before, this is the bit that feels like work, the bit where you have to motivate yourself to get back on it each day, even though you don’t feel like it.

Editors seem like Teachers in the book world. They have the right answers even though they don’t know your book; the weird thing is they know every book. They know the rules, the formulas, the mystic patterns that weave together the tapestry. Most of them don’t have the creativity to boot, otherwise they’d be the ones painting the trees in the first place rather than measuring them afterwards. That’s what makes the world wonderful; people complement each other without knowing it.

The second draft of a book, the bit where the writer is still on his, or her, own, is the most soul-destroying period that I’ve experienced so far. You finish the first draft on a high, you believe that you’ve created a masterpiece, and then you begin to re-read it and man, it’s as if someone threw all the words up in the air and they landed in a different order.

As the phrase at the top states, the editing process is the glitter, because the first draft phase is definitely the turd. In case you’ve not had enough metaphors yet, the first draft creates a big block of stone, and the editing process carves out the sculpture.

I won’t ‘first draft’ in your face anymore, but I am interested;  what do others feel about the necessary evil of editing?

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4 responses to “Why does Editing feel like Self-Harming?

  1. Editing. It makes me want to bang my head on the wall. When it comes to writing fictions, I can’t find the contentment on my works and I have to re-edit and re-edit and re-re-re-re- edit 😦

  2. I don’t consider editing a “necessary evil.” My experience is exactly the opposite of yours. Maybe it’s because I consider the first draft the “bones.” Creating the bones is a pleasure, but so is putting flesh on them. I do all my own editing, and it isn’t until the fifth or sixth go-round that it becomes wearisome, because by then, I’m hunting down the nit picky details that are so easy to overlook. The best way to stop feeling so bad about everything that comes after the original creation is to stop regarding it as a masterpiece. No first draft is a masterpiece.

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