Twenty years ago I liked to edit. I had memorised the AP Stylebook for journalism, and I loved getting out my fat, red pen to kill everyone else’s stuff. It was enjoyable, in a powerful and cruel sort of way. But that was murdering the darlings around other peoples’ farms, not my own. So here I am on my draft 10.2 of my manuscript (uh, that ‘.2’ is actually another draft, but 10.2 sounds better than draft number 25), and I have to convince myself that EDIT is not a swear word. Grammar has never been my strong point anyway, and it kind of stinks that sometimes I can’t even remember whether the word ‘editing’ has one ‘t’ or two, because I’m that rusty with the basics.
The enjoyable part of writing for me is getting out the ideas, the pictures stuck in my head, the amazing conflicts and the punchy dialogue. Yet that first draft of verbal diarrhoea (ahhh another edit crisis! Do I spell that word the British way or American way???) is always for me what Anne Lamott calls ‘A Shitty First Draft’. Her description of the beginning writing process is crude, but I think very fitting, especially for me. I never, ever write good first drafts, and rarely do I write decent second drafts.
I have heard that if you want to purify gold, it has to go through the refining fire at least seven times. In a sense, that’s true in writing. I go through, both on the screen and on paper, and demolish the things that get in the way. I rearrange, delete or add, and do that edit dance of creating a purer substance, something that other people might want to look at.
My writing tutor loaned me a book the other day as he thought I would enjoy the writing style. He was right, though the first story freaked me out so much (a psychological thriller) that I almost didn’t continue. It’s a collection of short stories called ‘Antarctica’ by Irish author Claire Keegan. I’m not a fan of some of her subject matter, but I can appreciate quality writing, and the twists that she drops in her understated stories that completely throw me.
One of her characters in the short story, ‘Quare Name for a Boy’ is a writer and had a profound thing to say in the middle of a key piece of dialogue:
That’s why I embrace the gruelling editing process. I get a second, third, and fourth chance to start over.
I wish it were that way in life instead of the spew of verbal diarrhoea that comes in the midst of some emotional conversation(with age and experience I’m getting better, but it still happens). I don’t get to use my red pen, or press backspace, like those things I said never existed. But if I suck up my pride, I can ask for forgiveness for those blunt and fast words. And hopefully, just hopefully, the hearer is gracious enough to cancel out my mistakes, let it not be irreversible, and let me have a chance at another draft. Go ahead, please mark away.
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